ENGLAND have done it again. Roy Hodgson has succeeded in what he does best. In a highly favourable looking group, England have still contrived to finish second best, behind Wales. Tepid, turgid football, characterised by dominating the ball against meagre opponents without having the cutting edge to exert that dominance on the score line. The Hodge will probably be quite pleased with that. No defeats, and qualification for the last 16. What more could you possibly ask for?
This latest encounter with Slovakia (it feels like the 100th time England have played them in recent years) was just about as ‘England’ a performance you could possibly imagine at a major tournament. Had it been in qualifying, we’re probably looking at a 3-0 win with a Wayne Rooney penalty. That’s how it usually works.
The emerging theme of this summer’s championships for England is that the overall performances of the national team have fallen short of the sum of the individual parts — in theory, at least. Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy scored a combined 54 goals last season, yet both have comprehensively failed to deliver the level of performances they managed for their clubs last term.
Then you’ve got Daniel Sturridge. We all know how good he is. World class. Dele Alli — PFA Young Player of the Year. A reborn Adam Lallana. A reinvigorated midfield maestro version of Rooney. Eric Dier- an outstanding defensive midfield prospect. Apparently, Kyle Walker is so good that even our Nathaniel Clyne can’t get into the side.
You get the picture. England have some very, very good players. There has been no genuine standout team this tournament who you look at as absolute clear favourites to go all the way. England should be looking around them and believing there’s every chance they can go all the way. And yet, Hodgson reels out his age-old trick of lowering expectations to make ‘satisfactory’ become widely accepted — and by this point — expected.
As I watched England stumble to a drab 0-0 draw against Slovakia — a team whose captain is Martin Skrtel (though in fairness, he played very well on the night) — three main issues dominated my thinking. Firstly- how on earth can’t England score against these? Seriously. 27 chances created against Slovakia, with a 0% conversion rate. That is unfathomably shocking.
Chances created: 27-0
Pass accuracy: 89%-81%
All huff and puff. pic.twitter.com/r7WHu4AWvm
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 20, 2016
Secondly, I can’t wait for all this to be over. I watch the Euros as a means to an end. A way of satisfying my thirst for football action throughout the dry summer months, and endless streams of nonsense transfer rumours. Some of it has been quite good. Much of it has been mind-numbingly dull. International football never lives up to the heights of club football and I cannot wait to see Jürgen’s Reds back in action.
But finally, the point that bothers me most. Hodgson fielded a heavily rotated side, presumably with the assumption that England would be capable of recording a victory against a side of Slovakia’s calibre, regardless of his changes in personnel. Naturally, it pleased me to see four Liverpool players selected to start.
Sturridge was shunted out on to the wing, deemed not worthy of fulfilling the central striking role in which he is undoubtedly England’s finest player. Clyne had an excellent game bombing up and down the right wing — a real statement of intent given Walker’s impressive form in the tournament thus far. Lallana had a quieter evening after a bright start to the Euros.
Which brings me to Liverpool’s captain, Jordan Henderson. I thought he had a decent game. His first half was superb, his second half less so. There is a widespread tendency to label players on the extremes — either ‘terrible’ or ‘fantastic’. He was somewhere in between. But, in my eyes, he was quite clearly one of, if not the standout performer on the night for England.
His inch-perfect lofted pass, with the outside of his boot, to play Vardy through on goal in the first half was exceptional. His driven left-footed volley, although blocked by a defender, was superbly struck. His link-up play with Clyne down the right was a pleasure to watch at times. As is always the case with the Reds’ midfielder, his work rate was second to none and he helped shackle the formidable talent of Slovakia’s key man, Marek Hamšík.
It was a highly accomplished display from the former Sunderland man, especially when you consider his chronic injury problems this past season, which have prevented him from gaining any kind of rhythm. Gary Lineker and Jamie Carragher were among those to tweet their praise of the Liverpool captain’s performance, met by a flurry of replies asking if they were in fact joking. How could you possibly praise Henderson?
Here are some of Henderson’s stats vs Slovakia:
80 passes attempted with 91% accuracy.
100% pass completion inside the penalty area.
84% pass completion inside the final third.
Four chances created.
Two clear-cut chances created.
NINE ball recoveries.
Sure, his corner kicks were uninspiring to say the least (you could say that about virtually every England player this tournament). He also over-hit one or two crosses (but equally produced two or three pin-point deliveries).
The widespread reaction to Henderson’s performance by England ‘fans’ on social media? ‘Absolute garbage’. ‘How on Earth does this guy play for England’. ‘He’s terrible’. This really is nothing new, but it is no less astounding given his relatively impressive showing on the night. Instead of praising him for his considerable positive contributions in the game, the focus has been on the few imperfections of his performance, painting him as some kind of national disgrace and complete liability to England’s chances.
As a Liverpool fan — and more so as a long-time admirer of our captain — it is frustrating to see such baseless and unjustified criticism levelled at one of our players, let alone after a strong individual performance. It’s a continuation of a long-term, mainstream biased agenda against the player from those who simply refuse or cannot even comprehend his staggering progression, since his early days on Merseyside, into a key figure for club and country.
In the same way that Sturridge remains widely under-appreciated by England supporters, Henderson is another to fall victim to this sham, and frankly distasteful, football culture whereby certain individuals are subject to abhorrent levels of abuse on social media, driven by club-based agendas and a rather severe lack of actual knowledge or understanding of the game.
It would be ignorant to believe that professional footballers do not read their social media. We’ve seen it before, most notably with Dejan Lovren, who deactivated all his accounts after the torrents of abuse he received online. He is now considered a cult hero by many Reds fans.
The performance of Henderson vs. Slovakia was one of a player pushing for a starting place for the last 16. Jack Wilshere hardly stepped up to the plate. Alli has hardly set the tournament on fire, either. It is a sorry reflection of the mindset of England supporters that the Liverpool man will not be recognised for his display, but rather belittled and scoffed at by the mass body of those who clearly know best.