The announcement on Monday of the 26-man provisional England squad for the European Championships was a fairly predictable affair.
The England manager, Roy Hodgson, has opted to include the majority of players who have helped the Three Lions to the summer tournament as well as the in-form Premier League winners, Jamie Vardy and Danny Drinkwater.
Hodgson’s clear admiration for Jack Wilshere has ensured that the 24-year-old Arsenal midfielder receives a call-up having participated in just three games all season for his club, while the inclusion of Fabian Delph is bizarre.
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England do have a few exciting players who have the weight of their nation’s expectations firmly strapped onto their shoulders.
Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy are all players who have had superb seasons and the trio of Ross Barkley, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling are also players who have the potential to excite and entertain.
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While the attacking options for Hodgson are, arguably, the most talented that England have had for a number of years, it is in the defensive options available to the England manager that are the most concerning heading into the tournament in June.
England have always produced solid, reliable and, on some occasions, world-class centre-backs that have given the national side some security going into games.
John Terry and Rio Ferdinand were the last, truly world-class centre-backs to play for England and, if one were to list the number of quality England centre-backs to have played for their country in the past, the list would be fairly formidable: Sol Campbell, Tony Adams, Mark Wright, Martin Keown, Des Walker, Terry Butcher, Garry Pallister, Jack Charlton and Bobby Moore, to name just a few.
The options available to Hodgson in the centre-back position are less than inspiring: Chris Smalling, Gary Cahill and John Stones are the only centre-backs selected while Tottenham’s Eric Dier can also fill-in should he be required to.
Hodgson has received criticism for only including three central defenders in his squad, but the England manager doesn’t have a great deal to choose from.
Aside from the three who have been selected, Everton’s Phil Jagielka, at the age of 33, has had a poor season and has certainly failed to impress in an England shirt in his 39 caps.
Ryan Shawcross is another name who could, and perhaps should, have been considered by the management team, but his international exile continues after his fateful cap against Sweden back in 2012.
With the exception of Chris Smalling, who has enjoyed an incredibly consistent season at Manchester United, the other two centre-back options for Hodgson, John Stones and Gary Cahill have had inconsistent years for their clubs and have not taken their opportunities at international level either.
Stones, at just 21, is a player for the future, but he must learn quickly at international level or risk costing his nation in a crucial game by holding onto the ball for too long or playing a needless, risky ball out from the back.
Gary Cahill is a far more experienced option, but he has been poor on occasions and his positional sense has deserted him on many occasions this season as was ruthlessly demonstrated by the way he allowed the unmarked German, Mario Gomez, to power a header past Fraser Forster thanks to Cahill’s ball watching.
England went on to win that friendly game 3-2 thanks to goals from Jamie Vardy and Eric Dier and that victory perfectly demonstrates the tactical approach that Hodgson should take against the big teams at the Euros.
It is indeed an attacking approach that is akin to Newcastle under Kevin Keegan in the 1990s, but the “you score three, we score four” approach could very well play to England’s strengths in attack as opposed to highlighting their weaknesses in defence.
Hodgson is not a manager who is likely to take such a risk, but with this tournament potentially being his last, it may be worth allowing his talented group of attackers to go out and play with freedom.
Should Hodgson decide upon a conservative approach, then England could very well find themselves cracking under the pressure with their defenders being unable to cope against the top teams.
An attacking approach that prioritises attempts on goal (and goals) over possession is indeed a risky approach, but at least England fans will be satisfied that their national side haven’t limped out of another tournament with more dull, uninspiring displays.
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