With just two points from matches against the United States and Algeria, having scored just once, Fabio Capello’s side must prepare themselves for a showdown contest with Slovenia on Wednesday afternoon, but unfortunately for the Three Lions, their focal point is misfiring.
But of equal concern for Capello is that Wayne Rooney, the man entrusted with the countries hopes, is at breaking point.
- Frustrated Wayne Rooney lashes out at England fans after World Cup 2010 draw with Algeria
- The three big reasons for England's two shameful showings, and one reason for hope
- England 0-0 Algeria - Nervous Three Lions freeze in tournament headlights
Following the full-time whistle, the England striker was faced by the TV cameras as he left the pitch to a chorus of boos directed at him and his underperforming team-mates. What followed next will likely haunt the forward, although it was apparent that the opportunity to vent his frustration was greatly needed.
"Nice to see your home fans boo you, " Rooney exploded. "That's what loyal support is."
But England's ineptness to overcome weaker opposition infuriates the Manchester United man as much, if not more, than any fan in the stadium, and while the striker's performances have failed to impress so far in South Africa, the team's failure is by no means all his fault...
The England side is laid out with one purpose, and one objective only: to capitalise on Rooney’s unquestioned ability.
Not only is the striker the first name on Capello’s team sheet, ahead of the captain (be it John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, or Steven Gerrard), his participation ensures that personal assistant Emile Heskey, a striker who rarely features for Aston Villa, starts alongside him.
"Within the 4-4-2 formation, the likes of Gerrard and Lampard are unable to compensate when Rooney is off form."
This of course has seen Rooney flourish in times gone by. In fact, before the World Cup, that partnership saw the former Everton trainee record a higher goals return ratio compared to partnerships with both Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe.
But Heskey does not offer a goal threat, and despite his undoubted work-rate, his inability to convert chances adds futher pressure onto Rooney.
Furthermore, the use of a system geared around Rooney comes at the overall detriment to the side. With Rooney's importance so obvious, opponents looked to freeze him out of the game, and within the 4-4-2 formation, the likes of Gerrard and Frank Lampard are unable to compensate.
The introduction of a ‘Raging Bull’ formation would see Gerrard freed from his left wing exile, and allow for the skipper to pose the attacking threat that has seen him become a cult hero at Liverpool.
WHERE HAVE ALL THE WISE MEN GONE?
Another aspect that should not be overlooked is the decline in leadership and players with tournament experience within the England squad.
Since the completion of England’s qualifying campaign, Capello has lost two captains. First off Terry following his much publicised off-field antics involving the former partner of ex-team-mate Wayne Bridge, and Ferdinand’s knee injury which saw the newly-appointed captain ruled-out for the entirety of the tournament. Additionally, David Beckham’s Achilles injury removes yet another leader from the field.
The fallout of such a situation is an added importance in the team for Rooney. Although Gerrard has picked up the captain’s armband, and Lampard acting as vice-captain, it is the forward who carries much of the responsibility, especially considering Gerrard’s left-sided positioning. The burden on Rooney increases.
GOOD, BUT NOT 'THE ONE'
Perhaps the biggest cause of Rooney's below par performances so far during the World Cup is the level of expectancy placed on the striker in comparison to the top stars of global football.
"There is no doubt that Rooney is one of the best players in the world, but he is not of the same ilk as Messi and Ronaldo."
Yes, there was a period during last season where Rooney’s football was out of this world. Unfortunately, to be the best, and reach the levels of Messi and Ronaldo, such form needs to be maintained across the entirety of a season, and replicated year after year.
Even Messi struggled to live up to the expectation of leading Argentina’s frontline before the inclusion of Gonzalo Higuain, and Rooney, amidst Capello's current system, is facing the exact same difficulty.
Rooney is clearly frustrated. He went into this summer's tournament on the back of his most succesful goalscoring season, and he would have been hoping to make the competition his own. But he is now at risk of being framed as the culprit in England's downfall, which is something that the talented forward does not deserve.