Starting XI: Forster; Walker, Cahill, Smalling, Rose; Dier, Henderson, Alli; Vardy, Kane, Rashford.
Let’s not kid ourselves - England’s tournament so far has not been good enough. Though they have qualified for the knock outs, so have 16 of the 24 teams who took part. Yes they dominated against Slovakia, but they couldn’t score. They narrowly beat Wales via a last minute deflection and they couldn’t even beat the group whipping boys, Russia. Did anyone really expect it to be any different?
Roy Hodgson is an establishment yes-man. An uninspiring manager, bereft of ideas and hostage to a self defeating logic created to hide the true basis for squad selection. He selects young players in form who have barely played for England, only to refuse to pick others who have had equally impressive if not better seasons, because they haven’t been part of the qualification process. He leaves out players because they haven't played regularly, only to pick others who played twice all season.
The fact of the matter is, Roy Hodgson’s squad selection was not based on footballing decisions. It was primarily based on who has the global exposure to successfully market the FA’s England brand and, most importantly, sell the products of England’s chief sponsors. Like it or not, the lions share of this England squad selection was a business decision. When Roy Hodgson was explaining his striking selections ahead of the Euros he said, ‘Wayne Rooney is Wayne Rooney’. While he was trying to make a footballing statement, he was unwittingly making a commercial statement as well. Rooney is one of the most recognisable and marketable people in English football, playing for a club with an unparalleled presence in the Asian market. Do not try to find footballing logic in Hodgson’s selections - it is a fools errand. Vardy has had a great season, but was also the chief protagonist of Leicester’s title triumph, earning himself global prominence and soon to be the subject of a hollywood film. Drinkwater, Noble and Antonio, alas, cannot boast such exposure and commercial appeal.
Hodgson selected out of form players in his squad and backtracked on his own reasoning, including and then omitting players for the exact same reasons. Why have press conferences and explain your reasoning, if your supposed reasoning is so demonstrably not true? It is poorly thought out, retrospective justification - a middle finger to all fans who truly want to know why decisions are made, and an indication of how stupid they think we all are.
Having made these inexcusable decisions, picking no wingers (Sterling is not a winger - he can’t control the ball or deliver a cross) and failing to take in form midfielders, he could at least try to pick a system that might make sense. But no, despite lacking wingers he plays systems that require width, shoehorning forwards out wide and failing to utilise the obvious attacking width available at full back. He throws forwards on but doesn’t play to their strengths and has passengers on the bench, few of whom will change a game. It was never going to be a success, but I, like so many others, can do a hell of a lot better.
So, even though I fundamentally disagree with the squad he picked, let’s proceed in trying to get a decent balance out of a supremely unbalanced squad this corporate yes man has picked.
GK - Fraser Forster
In goal, it’s got to be Fraser Forster. Southampton missed him so much in the first half of the season and when he returned, by god did the results follow. He didn’t concede a goal for a club record 708 minutes, winning the Premier League player of the month award for February and helping Southampton recover from a poor start to finish 6th. He’s big, strong, agile, imposing and better than Joe Hart. Don’t get me wrong, Hart is a very good goalkeeper, but I think Forster deserves an extended run in the England team.
FULL BACKS - Kyle Walker and Danny Rose
Kyle Walker has become an exceptional full back in recent seasons and though Clyne makes a great case for his inclusion, Walker deserves to continue having improved defensively and offering a real threat in attack. Rose has also developed fantastically and is a stronger and more accomplished player than Bertrand in my opinion, with pace to burn and excellent defensive capabilities. If he adds attacking composure and some assists to his game, he’ll be a world class full back. Both Rose and Walker have benefited under the tutelage and fitness regime of Mauricio Pochettino and deserve their spots after excellent seasons. It is vital they are allowed to attack and provide the width for this team, with no natural width in midfield or attack.
CENTRE BACKS - Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill
England’s centre back options are dreary and woeful and though John Stones has suffered from attending the Roberto Martinez school of defending, I still believe he will be an excellent player with the right coaching. Pochettino, having contributed massively to the improvements of Rose, Walker and Clyne in recent seasons, would be a perfect coach for a player like Stones. However, it would be risky to select Stones after the season he has had, equivalent to painting a target on his back. Hodgson has already done that with Sterling and I wouldn’t do it to Stones. By default, it’s Cahill and Smalling.
CENTRAL MIDFIELD - Jordan Henderson, Eric Dier and Dele Alli
In midfield the options do not improve significantly. There are no genuine wide options, the only possible options being Sterling, Milner and Lallana, all of whom do not possess the necessary qualities to be effective on the wing. Hodgson’s omission of in-form midfielders, both out wide and in the centre, has - and will - ultimately cost England in this tournament. Wilshere is clearly not fit or sharp, and his inclusion cannot be justified on any grounds. With the lack of width in mind, I believe three central midfielders is the best option.
Henderson is a glorified workhorse with limited technical ability, but he boasts an impressive engine and work rate if nothing else. Eric Dier possesses the same level of energy as Henderson, but supplements it with better technique, an ability to read the game and a noticeable and meaningful impact. Dele Alli has had an excellent season and offers a goal threat from midfield, as well as an arrogance that is vital for players like him. Given the players available, I would have to pick Dier and Henderson to offer protection and break up play, with Alli given a free role.
ATTACK - Jamie Vardy, Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford
In my front three, there is no way I can’t pick Jamie Vardy. The only issue is, where do you put him given the lack of balance and no set system?
I’d love to play him centrally, but I believe he must suffer for the team due to the poor squad selection that omitted the width and form of Andros Townsend and Michail Antonio. I’d ask Vardy to start to the left of an attacking three, but drift infield, make runs past Harry Kane and take chances to get into the box. One man who is not the answer and has to be mentioned just to be omitted, is Adam Lallana. In my view, he is a mid table player at best, capable of the occasional flick, decent pass or shot, but in terms of consistency and impact in 90 minutes, he is a passenger. His technical control of the football does not translate into goals or assists and the team suffers to accommodate him.
Harry Kane can be the focal point, the link up man and the goalscorer. He didn’t play well against Russia, but he has had an excellent season and in a well thought out and balanced system, he will score goals. It is amazing how many people have started doubting him after the first group game, but his movement and finishing is beyond question.
Finally, given the lack of options available, I would throw Marcus Rashford into the fray. The other options have not done enough to justify inclusion despite being given ample opportunity to do so. Sterling has had a terrible season, Sturridge wastes too many chances, loses the ball carelessly and is not a team player, while Rooney no longer has the legs to play the game he wants to and looks like a player searching for a new style and position. Rashford brings energy, pace, youthful exuberance and form into this tournament, and while I don’t agree with his selection in the squad, Rashford is the best option available to trouble defences and fill the gap in a wider attacking position. He will also drift inside to support Kane, with Walker overlapping to provide the width.
It is vital that the full backs provide the real attacking width in this team, with Rashford and Vardy tucking in to support Kane. Henderson and Dier must sit to provide protection for Smalling and Cahill, giving Alli licence to roam and get forward. I feel this squad has balance, energy, pace and is filled with attacking intent. England have the pace to worry teams and make them drop ten yards deeper and they should use that to their advantage.
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