Have England ever played 4-4-2 under Capello?

England's "rigid" formation against Belarus at Wembley.

England’s performance against Hungary is being hailed as evidence that Capello has finally abandoned his dogmatic faith in 4-4-2. The 4-3-3 the Italian used is, according to The Guardian, proof that England’s World Cup team were “constrained by a restrictively rigid 4-4-2”. While the Evening Standard seemed to think “rigid adherence” to an “antiquated” formation had finally been left behind.

I can’t say that I’m paid to watch football, let alone report on it. But I don’t think Capello has ever really played a 4-4-2 with England. It’s a point he has made himself, but it doesn’t seem to have registered. Capello has generally played a kind of 4-4-1-1. But that doesn’t quite convey the tactical plan he was employing.

Barring suspensions and injuries, this involved Rooney playing just behind Emile Heskey, who was left to lead the line. In midfield, Barry played a conventional holding role while Gerrard, notionally on the left, was actually playing tucked in, allowing him to get involved in play in a way familiar from his club role.

Width on the left was provided by Ashley Cole, who was expected to take on the double role of left back and left winger. Glen Johnson would get forward on the right, but in a more conventional way. While Cole was expected to get behind the opposition‘s defence, Johnson would normally just offer support on the flank and only send over a diagonal ball.

These were pragmatic decisions. With an outstanding left-back, the absence of a quality left winger, and one too many central midfielders, here was a formation that actually fitted square pegs into round holes.

For the most part it worked well. We sailed through qualification, scoring goals like they were going out of fashion. Unfortunately when we got to the World Cup, fitness, form and fear caught up with England. But one thing you can’t blame was a rigid formation.

Call it 4-4-1-1 or a lopsided 3-5-2. Question it’s effectiveness, but if there is one thing it isn’t, and that’s a rigid 4-4-2.

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2 Comments on “Have England ever played 4-4-2 under Capello?

  1. Good points raised but I think the formation that we saw England play at the World Cup was clearly 4-4-2.

    Gerrard tucked in from the left-wing at times but was expected to stretch the play and occupy his opposing right-back. The fact England’s captain and best central midfielder was forced to play in a role where he couldn’t run a game was baffling.

    Capello is a fantastic manager and shouldn’t be solely blamed for England’s failure at the World Cup. However his stubbornness not to change a rigid, stagnant formation was hugely frustrating. It just didn’t make sense.

  2. Wholeheartedly agree. We have a peculiar obssession with formation in England, as if choosing a different one is binary decision between success and failure. The main problem is that 4-4-2 or not, it doesn’t preclude players from moving around and creating space – something that England are very poor at.

    If you stuck Spain or Germany in a 4-4-2, their movement would still be devastating. The real problem here is that England’s footballers largely play a single position and only that position, which means they’re terrified about moving out of it (see Frank Lampard).

    And using 4-4-2 does not explain those performance against the USA, Algeria ans Slovenia. That was just ineptitude.

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