Monday, 3 June 2013

The Future's Oxlade

England drew valiantly with Brazil 2-2 in the Maracana Stadium in Rio last night, and no doubt would have lost on penalties if this was a tournament match-up.

However, following on from the drab encounter against the Republic of Ireland last Wednesday, England came away with some much needed credit to their name after being described as going backwards as they stuck to a 4-4-2 formation.

In this day and age of fluency and flexibility, the requirement of players and coaches to adapt to in game changes must be prevalent and the need of utility and adaptability is paramount from all concerned.  Players need to have many strings to their bow and not just be very good at one facet of play.

Roy Hodgson should be applauded as well for going for broke in Brazil, with the Samba stars taking the lead  through Hulk, many expected either Brazil to push their advantage home or for England to wilt in the stifling conditions.

Yet the England manager decided to be bold and took the initiative substituting Glen Johnson for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain of Arsenal, this allowed Phil Jones to revert to his more familiar right back position having been a part of England's three man midfield - along with Michael Carrick and Frank Lampard - and struggling to maintain possession.

This allowed Oxlade to play his preferred central position behind Wayne Rooney with James Milner and Theo Walcott threatening from the wings.

Oxlade was exceptional in his brief time on the field, he played with passion, a desire to get the ball and distribute it keenly and with intent to those around him.  Rooney appreciated this play to feet as for much of the first half - link play was disrupted by Walcott's wasteful possession and poor decision making.  Oxlade's injection of confidence to a flat-lining team paid dividends with him scoring his first international goal away from home, a crisply struck drive through a sea of players that left Julio Cesar no chance to thwart.

Oxlade's influence of counter-attacking had a hand in England's second goal scored by Wayne Rooney with a slight deflection - crisp quick passing from a Brazil corner led to link up between Walcott to Milner to Oxlade who freed Rooney to run with the ball and curl in a shot that with the deflection escaped Cesar for a quick turnaround lead.

England's lacklustre defence however, could not keep Brazil at bay and parity was restored when Paulinho converted a half-volley unmarked past Joe Hart, whose first half performance deserved more as he kept a rampant Brazil led by new Barcelona signing, Neymar and Chelsea's Oscar at bay with some fine saves and brave blocks.

Whilst this performance as a whole did not warrant a victory, it did give us a glimpse of England when let off the leash - an attacking threat which with the right personnel can be impressive and ask questions of any team, although this Brazil side is not the greatest vintage as they are going through changes themselves in preparation of hosting the World Cup next summer.

Call it is his lack of experience or perhaps the innocence of his play, but Oxlade-Chamberlain is a breathe of fresh air compared to his club-mate Theo Walcott who is a frustrating blend of expectation and a lot of overblown hyperbole.  Walcott has pace and speed to burn and yet unlike contemporaries Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale, he seems unable to run with the ball at this feet nor be able to make a decision that does not involve shooting at goal.

If Lennon had not picked up another injury it was likely that based on his overall level of performance could have started one of these internationals, Lennon's final ball and delivery is vastly ahead of Walcott's yet Lennon does not have the shooting boots Walcott has something that is most helpful in an international tournament.  With Michael Owen retiring due to a series of hamstring injuries that caused him to slow down and end with a career somewhat unfulfilled, perhaps Walcott should take advantage of his potential now before his first serious injury causes him to slow down and burn out.

Whereas in numerous international appearances, Oxlade has shown himself to not be over-awed by the occasion and looks like the sort of individual who after another season in the battle of the Premier League will become a better player.

Albeit by this time next year as Hodgson runs the rule over his final 23 for the World Cup (should England qualify -fingers crossed), Oxlade will not be a secret weapon but nevertheless be the sort of player who can make an impact coming off the bench.

And in this age of rampant commercialism amongst football, pardon me if I use a pun.  For England, the future is bright, the future's Oxlade.

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