The supposedly conservative England manager Roy Hodgson surprised many when he picked five strikers – alongside offensive midfielders Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli and Ross Barkley – in his final 23-man squad for the UEFA Euro 2016. With just three specialist center backs, the plan was clearly to outscore the opponent.
In the final warm-up friendly against Portugal, Hodgson toyed with a formation containing two strikers ahead of a midfield diamond with Rooney at its apex. It’s fair to say that Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy, the strikers chosen to spearhead the attack, flattered to deceive with England’s attack looking toothless and disjointed.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hodgson then decided to start with three upfront against Russia in the first game of the European Championship, with Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling on either side of Harry Kane.
Nevertheless with Andros Townsend left at home, there really are not any other players that can debutize for Sterling or Lallana on the wing. This is especially worrying considering Sterling’s awful form. Vardy has looked uncomfortable in a wide position in an attacking three in the warm up friendlies while Daniel Sturridge has repeatedly said in the past that his position should be central. James Milner has played in such a position in the past but is hardly the swashbuckling forward that Hodgson is looking for. Alli and Barkley tend to impress when playing centrally while Marcus Rashford is untried on the wing.
Do you persist with a 21 year-old lacking confidence or do you change to a formation that failed so miserably against Portugal but which seems to open up a slot for another striker?
This is the dilemma that the England manager faced at half-time against Wales as his side trailed to a Gareth Bale free-kick. Hodgson decided to go for the latter of the choices mentioned.
Sterling and Kane were hauled off with Sturridge and Vardy coming on. The move paid dividends as both strikers found the net in a 2-1 victory. As the dust settled from that pulsating game, the attention is firmly focused on the front line Hodgson will pick in the last group game against Slovakia.
As former England winger Chris Waddle alluded to on BBC’s Match of the Day, Kane looks absolutely knackered this summer having played no less than 118 competitive games during the past 22 months. Consequently, he has lacked the dynamism required of a central striker in a fluid front three. Thus, a role as one of a front two with a supporting striker such as Sturridge or Vardy may be more suited to him.
If Hodgson does persist with a front three, there’s no way Sterling should be given another chance. Alli and Vardy have been mooted to play in his place, but again I have to question their effectiveness in such a role.
In the match against Wales, Lallana proved that he can drop to the side of a midfield diamond with no problems. Nonetheless, who does Hodgson pick at the head of the diamond behind two of Vardy, Kane and Sturridge? Rooney? Alli? Perhaps even Barkley? And is there a role for Jack Wilshere on the left side of the diamond?
This offensive-minded squad is delivering a lot of questions of Hodgson and his coaching staff. Never has an England first eleven looked so undecided. It will be fascinating to see how England do line up against Slovakia with my bet being on a front two of Vardy and Sturridge with Rooney just behind. I expect Alli, Lallana (or possibly Wilshere) and Dier to complete the midfield diamond with the full backs Danny Rose and Kyle Walker providing most of the width.
Hodgson will probably not have gotten a lot of sleep in the past few nights when thinking about how to set up his attack. With such a porous defense, he can hardly afford to get it wrong.
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