Well the first half was brilliant: not just England but the game! It was a real throw back, a match where players passed the ball FORWARDS and tried to score more goals than the opposition. When I saw the shape of the Russian team I thought, here we go, it's got 0-0 written all over it. Instead, perhaps thanks to the early goal, we were treated to 45 minutes of pulsating football - what a joy!
Gareth Barry has been a revelation. He uses the ball instead of passing it sideways or backwards. And his defensive work was excellent. It's of course overstating it to claim that his first misplaced pass came in the 87th minute of the second match, but he certainly retained possession better than Lampard without "playing safe" like Hargreaves. It was a masterclass in how to play "box to box"!
Heskey's contribution has also been exaggerated. True he won EVERY ball in the air but most of his "knock ons and knock downs" fell at the feet of Russians and, as usual, he was as effective in front of goal as a eunuch with mouth ulcers in an orgy. But credit to the guy, he unsettled the Russians and drew the defenders to him, so creating the space for Owen. McClanger has a difficult call now. Do we want the superior skill and goal threat of Crouch (did I just write that description of old daddy long legs?) or the sheer physical presence of Heskey? And where does that leave Rooney?
Wright-Phillips was, in my view, disappointing. He flunked his header, closing his eyes as the ball cleared the defender, and failed to clear the first defender with the majority of his crosses. With the pace of Richards on the right, there still might be a place for Beckham, with Richards pulling the full back away, creating the space for Beckham's crosses. Or maybe Rooney could play wide right. Would that work?
Richards, of course, was the real revelation. The guy is so athletic, so powerful, so quick and so confident. And that long throw is a wonderful weapon with Heskey in the team.
On the other hand, Ashley Cole was a worry. His positional sense was poor and he was done for pace in the second half. Whereas Richards runs beyond his "winger", Cole now seems to regard the edge of the penalty box as the byline. His "angled" balls into the box are poorly directed and he seems low on confidence. Has the injury had lasting effects or is it marriage?
Joe Cole was, at best, adequate. He fluffed his big chance to score and, like his namesake, doesn't seem to realise that the byline is as deep as the corner flag. Every cross was from the edge of the box. Knowing where the ball is coming from must be easier to defend against irrespective of the quality of the delivery - we saw that with Beckham. The left side is, therefore, still a problem. Either Ashley rediscovers the ability and pace to power beyond his "winger" or we need a left footer with pace in Joe's position. Anyone fancy a bet on Etherington?
Gerrard? I don't think he was at his best in either game but he was still impressive. Owen? How could we have ever doubted him?
Still worried about Red Mist Robbo though. Why didn't the Russians test him with crosses?