The perpetual optimists of the world game; as each major tournament approaches fans and media alike are all up in arms how ‘this is their year’. After years of continual disappointment, they actually may be right this time. Roy Hodgson has named a bold, young squad who could emerge to be genuine dark horses in the race for Euro glory. We take a look at England’s chances of success in France.
25. That is the average age of this England squad – the youngest ever to represent England at the euros. It’s an aspect that is going to benefit them greatly given the typical fast tempo of English football, a characteristic that saw their clubs rise to be the benchmark of European football between the years 2007 and 2009. However the key protagonists in those years were foreign players – this year, Roy Hodgson has the benefit of picking players from a title race featuring a strong homegrown contingent.
Many of England’s reasons for “underperforming” in recent tournaments have been managers who overcomplicate things – typically employing these cultured formations with exotic roles that do not suit their talent pool (a 4-2-3-1 or a diamond midfield for example). Leicester’s shock title win is the greatest boost they could have received in the sense that Claudio Ranieri has provided them with a clear blueprint on how they should approach the tournament tactically. A solid-organized unit focusing on solidarity and discipline rather than freedom and technical abilities of their star players is what’s required – and they have the players for it considering the physical strength in defence, mobility and stamina in midfield, and firepower upfront.
Selection has raised a few questions however. Does it not seem odd that Drinkwater and Albrighton, who were key pillars of a title winning squad left out of the national squad?
Drinkwater, who has been exceptional particularly with his direct passing (Vardy can testify to that), had played 3,032 minutes this season. He missed out on a place to Jack Wilshire who has played a collective 142 minutes – not a typo. Yet he, in Hodgson’s eyes, is more fit to help England’s cause. More to the point, the match fitness of also Henderson and Strurridge is also a concern. To bring one unfit player is considered risky, what is it classified when bringing 3?
Hodgson defended his decision to not call up Drinkwater for the means of bringing a 5th striker – which is somewhat encouraging as it suggests that he may be fielding 2 at Euro. This was confirmed during England’s 1-0 victory over Portugal this morning – 4-4-2 Diamond with Vardy and Kane spearheading the attack with Rooney in the Trequartista role. A 1-0 win v Portugal does make for good reading, but it does seem a lot less impressive considering it was an experimental Portuguese side not featuring Ronaldo who is obviously being rested after a long season which was capped of with a non-existent performance in the Champions League final. It also fails to highlight that England only broke the deadlock in the latter stages of the match all the while playing with a man up after Bruno Alves saw red in the 35th minute. I mentioned earlier England’s unsuitability with regards to a diamond midfield, a system that is better suited to their French, Spanish and Italian counterparts, If this morning’s hit out doesn’t confirm that I’m not sure what will.
Fans are no doubt calling for Rooney to be dropped in favour for Dele Alli, who clearly has much more to offer in the Number 10 role, but the issue lies elsewhere. The diamond midfield must be comprised of technically gifted central midfielders, playing as close together as possible in order to allow space on the flanks for a marauding fullback. England’s other midfielders do not rate on technical and tactical nous when compared to Pirlo and Verratti, Xavi and Iniesta, etc., and forcing them to play in the close quarters of a diamond does not bode well. You will surely witness Milner and Dier abandoning their posts and drifting wide in order to receive a cheap ball, occupying their fullbacks space rather than receive it in the area where there is more perceived pressure. It’s a system that requires a certain comfort level on the ball while opponents are at their heels. Any slip up will see the ball turned over and in the event a fullback is then caught out trying to get forward, someone like Gareth Bale will certainly punish them.
A flat and direct 4-4-2 and simple roles is much more inline with their squad’s strengths and characteristics. With it and all that’s unfolded in this domestic season, it’s not unrealistic to seem them go all the way. Whether Hodgson heeds the warning signals that are present before him is another question. If not, it won’t surprise me to see them fail to make it out of the group.