The European Championships are almost upon us, and England go to France on the back of three straight wins in their warm-up matches. Amidst the optimism that comes with this good form, and a theoretically simple group to negotiate, there is some concern due to the fact that the team has not looked fluid offensively. They have not only struggled to score, but to create solid chances from open play as well.
There is no obvious reason why this should be the case, for the first time in a long time England has a deadly squadron of forwards. Daniel Sturridge, when fit, scores goals for fun, Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy have had superb seasons as well. Marcus Rashford is lightning quick and scored five goals in his 11 league appearances for Manchester United, despite the side not being the most offensively gifted in the Premiership.
The main reason lots of fans have been excited about England’s offensive play going into the tournament was due to the team’s much needed youth and speed. Raheem Sterling and Deli Alli were supposed to have the pace and trickery to open teams up on the counter, playing balls inside for Vardy to finish as he did all season for Leicester City. The plan seemed to be working when England came from behind to beat Germany 3-2 in a thrilling encounter, with Vardy’s improvisational flick finishing off a fast-break to bring the teams level. High pressing in that game from youthful legs caused Germany severe problems, with several good chances missed to put the game beyond doubt.
Against Portugal it seemed that this strategy was thrown out the window, and it was hard to see that the major difference between the two England sides was the addition of Wayne Rooney at Wembley. A decade ago, Rooney was perhaps the only England player capable of the sort of pace and directness that could give the opposition nightmares but ironically he is now the player depriving his own side of it.
He is England manager Roy Hodgson’s captain, and Hodgson says that he is a “mandatory starter”, who could play anywhere on the field, but the evidence thus far has shown that he has deprived England of some dynamism.
England lined up in a 4-4-2 diamond against Portugal with the strike pairing of Vardy and Kane, the same one that had sparked a comeback against Germany, but instead of playing the tricky Alli just behind with two water carriers as shuttlers; Eric Dier holding Alli was relegated to the periphery with Rooney at the point.