Despite an encouraging attacking display, England failed to capitalize on their chances against an experienced and physical Ecuador in Miami.
In an almost entirely changed line up, Roy fielded what is ultimately his reserve side. Lambert, Barkley and particularly the effervescent Oxlade Chamberlain did themselves plenty of favours with very positive matches. Unfortunately it looks like The Ox will now miss the tournament after picking up a painful knee strain after an innocuous coming together with his opposite number.
It did seem a strange choice to not start Sterling for the second game in a row, and with an upcoming ban after his harsh red card, it's hard to see him being in contention when we line up against Italy a week on Saturday.
Going forward we have a plethora of options, and it really is rather exciting, but this blog is focussing on the other end, and area where things do not look nearly as comfortable.
The centre back area continues to be a major concern. Cahill, after a superb season with Chelsea, and having played at the business end of European competition for the past 3 years, is now rightly considered the senior figure, but after that it's all looking a bit barren. I've never been a huge Jagielka fan, and in any other modern era, he would be nowhere near the England side. He has pace, and is reasonably comfortable on the ball, but is beaten too easily in the air, and his positioning is sometimes questionable. Compare our current choice of these two, plus Jones and Smalling to our 2002-2006 era quintet of Terry, Ferdinand, Campbell, King and Woodgate, and that's not to mention Carragher. Now we are looking at back up outside of this squad of Lescott (always performed well for England in fairness) and at a push, Shawcross. I have high hopes for Michael Keane at Manchester United having seen him play for the U21's on a number of occasions, but will he ever get the opportunities when his club can go out and buy the finished article, and probably will this summer given their shortcomings last season?
Further to my previous blog, where I suggested that Chris Smalling was not up to playing for England at the World Cup, I would now go so far as to say that John Stones ought to be taken in his place after the formers display against Ecuador. He is a mistake waiting to happen, and I for one am much more comfortable with a youngster who has only made a handful of Premier League appearances deputising.
All being well, Cahill and Jagielka will play every minute of every game, and so the backup players won't get a look in. However, I'd question how much Smalling deserves to be involved at all after a very poor season with his club, whereas Stones made giant strides in his debut campaign, keeping both Distin and Jagielka out of the Everton starting lineup at different points.
In Cahill and Jagielka, undoubtedly our fist choice pairing, we do seem to have a pairing who have formed quite a good understanding, and along with their others defenders (Johnson/Walker and Baines/Cole), have managed 5 clean sheets in 6 matches, only conceding one goal, and the most number of shut outs in the European qualifying groups. They have also never lost a match for England when lining up alongside one another, in 12 starts. However, there is considerable difference between playing against the might of Moldova and Montenegro, and lining up against Suarez (who hopefully will be injured) or Balotelli.
At full back, prior to the squad selection, I was very comfortable in the knowledge that we'd be lining up with Johnson and Cole against Italy. Roy has since put Ashley out to pasture, and I've made my feeling on Baines as a top level international clear in a previous blog. Luke Shaw is an extremely exciting prospect, but he did himself few favours by getting caught under the ball, and the wrong side of his man as Ecuador opened the scoring on Wednesday. Maybe this World Cup will prove to be slightly too soon for him? I have faith in him, but he clearly does still have plenty to learn.
It was a very strange decision to deploy Milner out of position at right back, but then the second and third right backs were playing centrally; a further reason why I'd have taken Flanagan (who can cover both sides), although there was little to gain from playing him when he won't be in the Brazil. The decision backfired spectacularly, with Milner looking understandably completely lost, and being beaten far too easily for the goal, and lucky not be punished further when he was exposed by a ball played inside him. I'd be surprised if he ever gets asked to play there again, so from that point of view, at least Roy has learnt something from a friendly rather than in a competitive match.
Johnson, as I've said before, is desperately in need of competition, as whilst he possesses the required qualities, I can't help but feel he is far too comfortable, perhaps even lazy. And, is it me or does he often look like he's carrying a little bit of timber (for an elite athlete)? I fully expect him to balloon a la John Barnes when he hangs the boots up.
Foster in goal looked nervous to me, often making rash decisions, not least when he rushed off his line to almost completely wipe out Enner Valencia as the forward nicked the ball around him. He wasn't of course helped by the ineptitude and indecisiveness of Jones and Smalling in front of him. And, there was nothing he could do with either goal, two emphatic strikes, which could have both been avoided elsewhere.
I would suggest that Roy has learnt more about who he can trust in the heat of Manaus, rather than anybody playing themselves in to his thoughts. Expect a complete switch of personnel in the final warm up game against Honduras on Saturday, lining up with his first choice players as he did against Peru. And, I for one will feel a lot more relaxed when he does.
How are you feeling about the defence? Do you rate Jagielka? Was the Milner decision crazy? Does Foster inspire any confidence in you?
Please leave comments below, or contact me via Twitter @russellheaps