Football

Poland provide Hodgson with the perfect test

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So here we are in the middle of October, with England just a game away from being one of the 32 teams to grace the FIFA World Cup next year in Brazil.

The road has been long, which it often is, and fraught with panic, which was inevitable.

Poland are now the only team that block England's route, and with the spate of 'they're quite good you know' comments increasing to an almost deafening level, it is clear that tonight's match will be a tense occasion for everyone associated with the Three Lions.

Poland are a decent side, but England should be turning their scrutiny inward ahead of the encounter, with many issues still to be resolved or at least pondered after the splendour of the 4-1 scoreline achieved against a willing, but depleted Montenegro side.

There were some fine individual displays. Townsend was most prominent, providing a welcome change from Theo Walcott's increasingly insipid displays with an exhibition of gloriously direct running and shooting prowess for his victory-securing goal.

Unlike Walcott, Townsend is able to maintain his balance after beating his man, going on to continue running at the opposition defence or maintaining possession for England (he achieved an impressive 89% pass completion rate). Walcott on the other hand is often, for England at least, reduced to a jangled mess after going round his man, with his attempts to bypass an opponent requiring much more effort than players with greater balance, like Townsend.

It is when the game is stretched where Walcott can truly affect the game, using his pace to attack the open spaces. Even when the game was tight against Montenegro however, Townsend was able to create space for his teammates with his pace but more so because he was able to keep his runs going due to his adroit technique.

The Spurs wingers' unexpected arrival perhaps signals a change on the horizon for England's wing play. For some time now, England's wide positions have been occupied by an increasingly eclectic mix of characters, with everyone one from Tom Cleverley, James Milner and Ashley Young acting as temporary chalk-booted merchants, throwing up a mixed bag of results.

Against Montenegro England's wing play was their most effective weapon. Welbeck and Townsend both cut inside like inside forwards, allowing Leighton Baines and Kyle Walker to attack the space outside of their wing partners because of the obvious different preferences of foot.

It was a logical step from Roy Hodgson, and it ensured that England always retained their width, something that was incredibly important against opponents as dug in as Montenegro were.

One aspect of the England team with a slightly more uncertain direction is the centre of midfield. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard's much maligned partnership in midfield has been resurrected by Hodgson with the premise that their combined experience would safeguard the passage through to Brazil with the pressure at it's highest. It has worked so far, but the partnership has been limited to being functional at best.

Against Montenegro, the pair scuttled around the pitch together without any real significance. At times they resembled the two most popular kids at school who, occupying two rival playground factions, are thrown together for some kind of crucial school project. They are getting the job done, but an indifference hangs in the air, and one gets the impression they'd both prefer to be paired with someone else.

Cumbersome playground analogies aside, Michael Carrick must wonder what it will take for him to get into the starting XI.

England remain on a steady road though, and as long as this continues against Poland, both Lampard and Gerrard will remain pretty solid bastions of stability.

One area where England will be less worried about is central defence, where Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka's partnership continues to impress. This part of the team is one in which it is hard to see much tinkering done to from now to Brazil, a great situation considering the merry-go-round of names seen there before Hodgson paired the two names above.

Establishing these kind of partnerships will come in handy, and it is something one can see emerging as Hodgson looks to build a strong and well-gelled team. Walker and Townsend? Jagielka and Cahill? Baines and Welbeck? Rooney and Sturridge? It is only central midfield where anything near drastic change is imaginable.

Frank Lampard, though continuing to perform adequately for Chelsea, is losing his allure for the national side, whilst questions will be asked of Gerrard's importance with challengers to his position growing stronger.

Players such as Wilshere and Carrick both offer different qualities, whilst Ross Barkley's emergence remains another useful plan B if he continues his development unabated.

Issues are there to be resolved then, issues Hodgson will hope to still have after tomorrow's crunch match against Poland. 

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Topics:
World Cup
Football
England Football

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This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of GiveMeSport.com or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. GiveMeSport.com and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

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