Is Ashton the answer to Rooney’s problem?

Whilst perusing the excellent Two hundred Per Cent blog (link on the left), I noticed a recent post made regarding England’s performance and suddenly felt compelled to respond.  it ended up being slightly longer than planned so I decided to cross-post it here as well.  The original post can be found here, if you’re looking for some sort of context.

I think it’s an interesting point about Rooney and I agree largely.  My opinion with the England side is that you take your best players and build around their strengths.  Rooney would fall into this catergory (and I’ll disagree with you by saying Gerrard does too).

When has Rooney played really well for England though?  His peak was playing in a 4-4-1-1 sort of role where he could drop somewhat deep and collect the ball in between the opposition defence and midfield.  The thing stopping England playing this system at the moment is the lack of a suitable striker to lead the line.  Owen and WR had a decent partnership and could do again, but questions remain over Owen’s physical presence and his ever-decreasing pace.  For Newcastle he is being deployed in a deeper role with Martins and / or Viduka ahead of him so maybe he is not up to the task of playing on the shoulder of the defenders at international level anymore.

None of the other strikers to have been experimented with have proved hugely successful.  Capello seems to like Defoe but he’ll need to improve if he wants to keep a place in the side.  Crouch had a good scoring record but wasn’t even in the squad for some reason.  Also, he’s one of those players that it is easy to drop and face no recriminations from media or fans.  Andy Johnson, Darren Bent & Emile Heskey all have the pace and physicality to play the foil to Rooney but do they have the required skill needed to out-think top quaility defences?

Playing a four in midfield to accommodate Rooney also poses problems.  Personally I’d have Gerrard’s name on the team sheet and work around him, and in the middle of the park.  He shouldn’t suffer like Essien does at Chelsea where he is so versatile that inferior players get picked in his position ahead of him.  Barry provides good balance so play him in the middle alongside him.  That leaves two wide midfielders to choose.  Joe Cole should be a lock on the left although a case could be made for Ashley Young.  I’d retire Beckham because he contributes so little at this point and give a few games to the natural successor, David Bentley.  A 4-4-1-1 of:

Cole Barry Gerrard Bentley

…looks good on paper but if you haven’t got a focal point then the whole thing is negated.  The only person I see likely to be the missing link any time soon is Dean Ashton.  The main knocks against him are his weight (and subsequent lack of pace) and his proneness to injury.  If he can stay fit long enough then he more than deserves a few games to try and make the slot his own.  Until then, Ivanhoe should carry on purely because he’s the best have at linking the play even though he provides so little goalscoring threat.  Darren Bent should also come under consideration if he starts playing well for Spurs in what looks like being a similar system with Modric playing off him.

4-3-3 or 4-5-1 are experiments that always get written off for wasting Rooney.  it is claimed that he is not involved in the game enough to justify his talent when played either side of a main striker and is responsible for tracking back etc.  At the same time he seems unsuitable / unwilling to play as a lone frontman and as we have seen in the past when tried there – his frustration at being isolated leads to aggressive outbursts.  Portugal, 2006 springs to mind.

While the GK is not decided, Foster, Kirkland, Green and James are all pretty solid in my mind and I wouldn’t object to seeing any of them in goal.  Similarly, the defence seems set in stone (although where on earth is Micah Richards?) and seem settled as a unit.

The problem can be defined by the problem with Rooney.  And there is only a problem with Rooney because we lack a suitable striker to play the 4-4-1-1 that so clearly seems the best solution.  It may have seemed unthinkable until just now, but I think I’ve convinced myself that any success in the next two years lies on the pizza-bolstered shoulders of West Ham’s number nine.  Maybe we have more problems than I thought…

One Response to Is Ashton the answer to Rooney’s problem?

  1. Capello also seems to like Emile Heskey, he’s big, holds the ball up quite well, but that’s about it as far as I can see, but then I’m not the England mangaer, so i guess he sees some other qualty.

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