England have come out of this set of fixtures relatively unscathed with three victories from their three friendly games, albeit each as unspectacular as the last, although without any injury concerns, which comes as one of the few major positives for England before they jet off to France after these warm-up matches.
These 3 games were intended to help Roy Hodgson put the finishing touches on his selection for the European Championships, yet seems to have raised more questions than were initially posed and leaves the England manager without a clear picture of who he will select in his starting 11 for England’s first game of the tournament against Russia on the 11th June.
4-3-3 or 4-1-2-1-2?
Roy Hodgson seems to have settled on 2 main formations for his team,with the 4-1-2-1-2 generally taking precedence and seemingly being the best fit for England’s current group of players, although the problem with this system is accommodating the squad’s best players effectively.
Eric Dier will start in front of the back four, and rightly so given his performances for Spurs and England this season, looking comfortable on the ball and offering sufficient cover to what has been a vulnerable England defense in recent times. Dele Alli is a certain starter too, although has been used by Hodgson in both the No. 10 role and as a more out-and-out central midfielder where his attacking game seems to be stagnated by his responsibility to contribute more defensively in that position , most recently in the game against Portugal where Alli seemed more subdued than usual, meaning Roy may feel inclined to push the talented youngster in behind his main strikers.
But where does this leave the captain Wayne Rooney? Kane, Vardy and Daniel Sturridge must surely be ahead of Rooney in the pecking order in attack given their performances this season, and while a midfield role is completely viable for Wayne, can Hodgson still accommodate him into the diamond system? Jack Wilshere has proved his talent in these warm-up games and even in his brief appearance as a substitute against Portugal showed the type of attacking instinct and drive that England seemed to lack throughout the game, but can the two play together in the diamond? Or will the usually pragmatic Hodgson instead look to one of his tried and tested more conservative players in Jordan Henderson or James Milner, both of whom have been regulars for England in recent years.
Hodgson openly admitted in his post match interview following the Portugal game that he was happy to utilize both of the formations that he has been deploying in recent weeks, giving possible room for maneuver in regards to team selection, especially given the depth and flexibility of attacking options at the England manager’s disposal, 4-3-3 offers a useful alternative when the diamond proves unsuccessful.
What went wrong?
Despite claiming 3 wins, England must face the reality that they were expected to win their 3 home games, with Turkey and Australia never likely to pose too much of a threat. Even the fixture against Portugal was somewhat of an anti-climax, as star player Cristiano Ronaldo was unavailable, to the frustration of Hodgson, and Portugal were reduced to 10 men in the first half, leaving England without a significant challenge again. The absence of Ronaldo was of particular disappointment as he would surely have been seen as an early practice for the England team as they prepare to come up against his Real Madrid team-mate Gareth Bale and his Wales side in the group stages, and the arrangement of the friendly with Portugal must have been with Bale in mind given his similarities to Ronaldo and also his role as the superstar of his national team.
Another worry would be the fitness of striker Daniel Sturridge, who received just 15 minutes of first team action over the 3 games and seemed to lack sharpness. This raises further questions over his injury problems and whether Hodgson has made the right decision to include him in the squad, as although there is no doubting his immense talent, he is no good to England if he is not fit and firing, with tonight’s game evidence that he still needs some time before he can be considered to start a game, which is a shame given that fitness aside, Sturridge would comfortably find himself in Hodgson’s first team plans.
Look on the bright side…
Of course it’s not all doom and gloom, and neither should it be. As stated earlier England have won all 3 games relatively comfortably and will travel to France with the full compliment of Hodgson’s initial 23 man squad.
For the first time in some years England seem to possess an exciting young squad, with the kind of depth that previous squad’s have lacked. The substitutes and options available to Hodgson throughout the tournament could be of key importance, and being able to call on attacking talent like Sterling, Lallana, Wilshere and Sturridge, who all appeared from the bench tonight, as well as young wild-card Rashford provides an interesting alternative for Hodgson to hold in reserve until he deems necessary to unleash.
Lastly it is important to remember that this is a new young and inexperienced England team. Although this doesn’t sound all too good, it bodes well for the future, as a lot of these players will develop and play together without interruption for the next 5-10 years, and could be the real deal when it comes to a major tournament in the future, where the experience gained from this European Championships will prove invaluable. Well for this summer’s tournament itself, England have as good a chance as almost any other nation, being ranked as 4th favorites, and rightly so due to the quality of squad, and given the history of this competition to throw up shock winners, there’s nothing to say England cannot go all the way.
The future is bright.
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