Pitchside Europe

Henderson, Wilshere must not fill Gerrard’s vacated holding role

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Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere (Reuters)

Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere (Reuters)

After the hubbub and excitement of everyone's favourite day of the year - transfer deadline day - an international break always seems like a rather deflating and sudden reality check. The early September friendly is always the most unwelcome of them all, and stats reporting that millions more people tuned into Great British Bake Off than England's lethargic 1-0 win over Norway reflect the fact that this one was probably the most apathetically received international friendly in recent memory.

Yes, England were rubbish at the World Cup, in case you needed reminding. And yes, they are still pretty awful. Even a month's holiday and a few Premier League games didn't fix that. What a surprise.

Quite why the transfer window descends into the start of the season is another matter for clubs themselves, but what it does mean in an international sense is that players and fans alike are distracted and disappointed when the first set of friendlies and qualifiers roll around. An underwhelming attendance coupled with players' minds being fixed on club duties was simply always going to make for an even duller England friendly than usual. For every part it was uninspiring, there was equally little to learn from the game.

Now, all of a sudden, Roy Hodgson faces a competitive game in Switzerland on Monday with a vastly inexperienced squad and highly untested first XI. The defence is weak and could certainly be broken down by a clever and innovative Swiss attack, and while an England forward line consisting of captain Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling - in a so far undecided formation - makes sense, there is still work to be done in central midfield.

With Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard's recent retirements, there is a glaring lack of stardom in that position at present. Fabian Delph and Jack Colback made the squad, and although they are both decent players they are simply not the answer to England's woes.

Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson started on Wednesday night against Norway in a 4-4-2 formation. Although both like to come deep in search of the ball, neither is a natural holding midfielder and making either play that role would sacrifice some of the driving force going forward that they provide for their club teams.

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Jack Wilshere v Jordan Henderson (WhoScored graphic)

Jack Wilshere v Jordan Henderson (WhoScored graphic)

Henderson was the more deep-lying of the two, although both had clearly been instructed to track back and ensure the defence was never left unprotected. He had 117 touches of the ball, a full 40 more than anyone else managed, while he completed 91% of his 110 passes. He is technically adept, and against the calibre of opposition England were facing in their latest outing at Wembley, Henderson provided ample cover. 

Though he made 3 interceptions and Wilshere made 1, neither made a single tackle. Neither is disciplined enough to do the holding midfielder job sufficiently, and asking them to do so means you lose their best assets. Henderson has two Premier League assists already this season; Wilshere got one in the Community Shield and another for the only goal in the Champions League play-off against Besiktas. Neither made a single key pass against Norway.

What playing a flat four-man midfield also does, is require too much defensively of Raheem Sterling. Brilliantly free and roaming for Liverpool, Sterling is better suited to a position that requires less of him in terms of the team's shape. Hodgson also experimented towards the end of the game with a midfield diamond at the tip of which Sterling played. He instantly looked more at home, and there is certainly an argument to say that England should build their team around the Liverpool man, who is unquestionably our most exciting player.

And yet, with the diamond, England are back to the same problem of lacking a defensive midfielder. At Arsenal and Liverpool, respectively, Wilshere and Henderson have a holding player that gives them a bit more freedom to make the clever darts forward that make them such good players. Hodgson doesn't have an obvious candidate for that job now that Gerrard has retired, but England would be better off picking a less glamorous player from one of the Premier Leagues lesser sides than sacrificing the attacking talents of Wilshere, Henderson or both.

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.

Alistair Tweedale (On Twitter: @alitweedale)

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