Ian Holloway recently turned to culinary-speak to describe the contrast and variety required to arrange eleven football players into an effective team: “It is like a casserole. Like a cake. You would not put all of the same ingredients in as it would taste horrible. You need all different types”.
England’s comfortable 4-0 victory over Moldova in Friday’s World Cup Qualifier served to endorse the Crystal Palace manager’s taste for tactical recipes with just the right “blend, balance and mix".
Moldova were modest opponents but Roy Hodgson’s choice ingredients nonetheless proved a successful balance, especially in attacking areas where the varied talents of Rickie Lambert, Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott found a harmony which brought about numerous incisive attacking phases of play.
A glimpse at the physical attributes of the forward trio may have led onlookers to believe that England’s attack would perform in a basic 4-3-3 formation, with a robust target man and flanked by two quick, nimble-footed suppliers.
However, it was Lambert’s often unheralded ability to link and create play from withdrawn attacking positions - profiled in The Future Game column back in February - which proved fruitful in a game in which Hodgson’s men moved to the top of Group H.
As the 31-year-old vacated the centre of England’s forward-line pathways were created for wide players to exploit. Lambert’s intelligent wanderings were an invitation for Walcott and Welbeck to use their pace to spin inside off their starting positions on the flanks, making runs across or behind their markers into central areas.
Pace is a menace the Southampton man lacks, but he makes up for it with his ability to hold, link and combine. During England’s patient build-up play the former Bristol Rovers man repeatedly slipped off into deeper and wider positions to receive passes from England’s midfield.
Technicians who scheme in these pockets of space between midfield and attack need both the awareness and technical ability to exploit any gaps conjured from team-mates’ movement with incisive passes. Welbeck was the main beneficiary of Lambert’s probing and the Manchester United forward repeatedly found himself with opportunities to refine his improving composure in front of goal.
England’s third goal proved a fine example of the Three Lions’ attacking mix. Lambert dropped deep to receive in the inside-right position before turning and delivering a sumptuous, 30-yard pass into the path of Welbeck whose run from a withdrawn position on the left exploited the space Lambert had just left. Welbeck rounded Stanislaw Namasco in Moldova’s goal to grab the first of his two goals.
It was a wonderful moment of vision from Lambert, even if England’s No11 was allowed to peel from his centre-forward perch unaccompanied. Regardless, here was a demonstration of how complementary talents can combine to execute a game-plan.
Merits of individual players are often discussed in isolation, especially in youth football where one-off talent is treasure. How to maximise an individual’s strengths by developing pairs and units of players with complementary attributes is a conversation less frequently heard. After all, in a team game no player is an island and for every jet-heeled Welbeck or Walcott you need a deep-lying Lambert.
On Friday night Hodgson got his measures and mixture just right. However, with an increasingly depleted list of attacking players to select from, Tuesday evening’s visit to the Ukraine requires the preparation of a much more considered tactical recipe.
Peter Glynn is the Editorial Manager at St. George's Park and editor of The Boot Room, The FA's Coaching Magazine. Peter is a journalist and has been with The Football Association for six years and holds the UEFA B Licence and The FA Youth Awards 1 and 2.
The Future Game Tactics Column takes a weekly look at the evolution of the modern game, linking to practices from The FA's Future Game philosophy providing advice and tips for grassroots coaches.