England's victory over Switzerland last month was an impressive performance of ruthless counter-attacking football that gave the Three Lions a big confidence boost, while it also provided a new look at where Roy Hodgson envisages Jack Wilshere playing in his future line-ups.
While his new Arsenal teammate Danny Welbeck was bagging both the goals to see England leave St. Jakob Park in Basel with all three points, Wilshere was operating in a deeper position than he has done before at club or international level. The 2-0 scoreline will suggest the experiment was largely a success, but this is by no means a unanimous assessment of his 75 minutes in the position.
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Contrast in styles
James Milner eventually replaced the 22-year-old to add a bit of extra energy and bite in front of the defence as Hodgson looked to consolidate the 1-0 lead his side had at the time. The contrast in styles between the two players highlighted exactly the dilemma that the former Liverpool and Fulham boss has.
Manchester City's utility man has better pace, defensive instincts and is an all round better athlete, but his ability on the ball is nothing like as good as Wilshere, especially when carrying the ball forward. Milner's presence allowed for Jordan Henderson and Fabian Delph a little bit more licence to join counter-attacks, as the 28-year-old could be fully trusted to cover in front of the back four.
A common modern problem
Hogdson is not alone in this dilemma, as many managers face a choice between the scrapping destroyer with limited passing ability or the deep-lying playmaker that leaves gaps defensively. Some lucky managers have a player that can do both, while others can rely on a player like Andrea Pirlo to cover any defensive deficiencies with pure talent with the ball.
Each of those choices requires the team set up in a certain way with certain personnel if it going to succeed. At club level, transfers can enable a boss to acquire players that will fit a certain philosophy, while international coaches need to be more pragmatic to a certain extent - unless you are Joachim Löw or Vicente del Bosque.
To a certain extent because Hodgson obviously seems to have decided that of his two options, he will top for the one that give his team greater capacity to hold on to possession. Wilshere's style is basically that of a player designed to keep the ball in congested areas of the pitch.
Club view is different
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger sees him as a more advanced option in the midfield, but has admitted in the past that Wilshere could eventually move back to the deeper role. However, Hodgson wants this to happen now.
Pirlo and Javier Mascherano were the two names Wilshere mentioned post match a month ago, saying he was going to study the pair to pick up tips on how to best play the role he is being asked to. Not to mention how the job can be done differently, yet equally a successfully.
Discussion over whether Wilshere can be transformed into another Pirlo is misguided as the two are far too dissimilar in style and attributes, the same could be said for Mascherano so the question should be if he can become a mix of the two.
Wilshere is supremely talented, no question. But he does not have the easy grace of Pirlo and the Italian's sensational passing range; short or long, with every pass the Juventus midfielder is attempting to shape the game to his will, using the running of teammates.
Meanwhile, the Gunners graduate does not have the positional instincts in defence to be able to play the clean-up role of Barcelona's diminutive Argentine - that positional game is what allows Mascherano to play at the centre of defence too.
However, he is far more accomplished when under pressure with the ball at his feet than both Pirlo and Mascherano; Wilshere also possesses the ability to effect lightning fast transitions because of his ability to take the ball in the half turn and implement his innate talent of gliding past challenges and opponents.
Adept at intricacies
Although his short passing is not outstanding, he still has the vision to occasionally pick out killer passes for teammates running into the opposition area. He has yet to show if he can do the same from deeper positions, but his intelligent recycling of the ball means playing possession football is an option for Hodgson.
Looking at what Wilshere is best at, it is easy to understand why Wenger wants him higher up the pitch. Arsenal often face opposition that sit deep and congest the area in front of the box in an attempt to deny space in behind.
Wilshere specialises in being able to pick a way through these scenarios - his goal against Norwich City last season was the most glorious incarnation of Wenger's vision for him in this position. The French tactician knows Wilshere has a singular talent in his squad; the terrific technique and close control, but added to an instinct to drive forward.
Whether Hogdson's experiment with the young midfielder works remains to be seen and it will take a while for him to get accustomed to the role - San Marino or Estonia aren't exactly stern tests of the system.
There is hope there, however, with the presence of players like Henderson and Delph give it a good chance of succeeding. Both players have incredible engines and have the ability to fill in if Wilshere embarks on the occasional raid into the opposition box or runs at defenders.
Fluidity has always been the key to domination for the best teams and a trio like this may well be able to attain the kind of interchangeability that baffles opponents. Hodgson is right, however, to have Wilshere at the centre of this, as he is the most natural playmaker among England's midfield ranks.
Forget about Wilshere becoming 'the new Pirlo', it's not going to happen, but England fans should be excited at what he could do for this new-look Three Lions side. Meanwhile, Arsenal fans should be enthused at the flexibility he will gain from performing a different job on international duty, it will mean a more rounded and tactically astute player at Emirates Stadium.
Less the new Andrea Pirlo, more Wilshere Mk II.
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