Why Milner starting is the right decision


A bad miss against France, wasteful with the ball against Sweden and an inspired impact from his replacement, Theo Walcott, in that same game would generally dictate that Milner being benched for the game against Ukraine would be fully justified. Yet in the two banks of four, disiplined and structured 4-4-1-1, Milner’s inclusion still makes sense, at least for 65 minutes.

Walcott’s decisive and direct running changed the game for England when they appeared to be losing their grip on a game they had controlled well in the first half. Yet the underlying fact about England v Ukraine is that England go through if they are not beaten. Whilst it is often said to be defensive or even negative to approach a game to avoid defeat, it would be stupid and naive to tactically set up to be more attacking, and as such a tight and organised display from England again is the common sense option. Whilst Walcott demonstrated good linear movement that stretched Sweden out of their shape, he was slow to get back into position when England were defending and would stray out from the midfield line and disrupt the organisation. Milner on the other hand is the hard working defensive player that carries out tactical instruction to a tee, a Jon Walters or Dirk Kuyt. Of course, like those two he is also lacking in technique and flair as was evidenced by his consistent inabilty to beat the first man with his crossing, and his failure to test the left back.

Today’s game however calls for us to not be beaten, as if we are beaten, we are out. Therefore an appraisal of which player is better suited could be gained if we consider which player’s weakness could harm us the most. Milner is more likely to concede possession, through a misplaced pass or bad cross, high up the pitch, whereas Walcott’s lack of positional awareness and indisipline could see Ukraine breach us in that zone, a more dangerous area for them to build attacks.

Furthermore, Whereas the best players in the world can be contained early in a match when a defender is fully concentrating and disiplined, later in a match this is less the case. As such, Walcott’s pace becomes a much more powerful asset when players are tired, concentrating less and thus more suseptible to mistakes, making him a better option for later in the game when his attacking strengths are likely to outweigh his defensive flaws.

On a seperate note, Glen Johnson endured a torrid display against Sweden, at fault for one of the goals and constantly illlustrating why there is a cliche of him being unable to defend, which showed that he can be caught out high up the pitch. As ridiculous as it is that a defender should need protecting, Milner would provide a shield that protects Johnson on the right side, that Walcott would not, thereby suring up that zone of the pitch.

The exception to this logic comes of course if England are behind and a goal is needed, in which case Walcott’s stretching of the play and testing pace, at the sacrifice of sound defensive structure, becomes a risk worth taking.

Glen Johnson makes up his own defensive line v Sweden

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