Roy Hodgson has put his job, and the hearts of England fans, firmly in the hands of a slender hope. That slender hope is that Eric Dier, the Butcher of Stamford Bridge, does not get suspended or injured during the European Championships.
In order to get suspended, he would only need to accumulate two yellow cards during the five potential games preceding the semi finals; if, of course, England get that far.
Naturally, a red card at any point in the tournament would also result in at least a one-game ban. The statistics aren’t encouraging.
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In the Premier League this season, Dier played 37 games for Tottenham Hotspur, and was booked 10 times. Now, while he did manage one stretch of nine games without a booking, he had another spell of five yellows in eight games. An automatic one-match suspension would mean that a replacement holding midfielder comes in.
The problem is, Hodgson hasn’t picked one.
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Fabian Delph was ruled out by injury, which meant that Danny Drinkwater was the only one left in the provisional squad of 26. The fact he has since been omitted is optimistic at best, and bordering on the treasonous at worst.
Many on social media believe it was between Drinkwater and Jack Wilshere for that place, but that is nonsense; Hodgson might play them in a similar position, but they are very different players with very different qualities.
Yes, Wilshere is coming back from injury, but he is a much better player than Jordan Henderson and Ross Barkley, both of whom were luckier to get on the plane.
What Hodgson needed to do was strike an appropriate balance in a squad that is bound to come under pressure defensively. But has he?
Speaking at Wednesday’s England press conference, Hodgson said he believed he had balance in his squad, “albeit it tilted towards an offensive approach.”
An incredible understatement. He proceeded to speak of mobility, running power and defending starting from the front. Frankly, those comments were even more offensive than his squad. You can run and move all you like, but tackling and being good at defending are skills that come down to more than that.
All the best teams, internationally and domestically, have good protection in front of their defences; and those defences are often better than England’s in the first place.
Hodgson must believe that he has cover in central midfield, but he hasn’t. While he has many players in his squad who play in ‘central midfield’, central midfield is a very generic term and the defensive holding midfield role is a far more specialised version.
Henderson, James Milner, Wayne Rooney and Wilshere could all play there, yes, but none of them could play there as well as Drinkwater. Any one of them would be a round peg in a square hole. Obviously there is a good chance that Wilshere will play in there, but that is with Dier alongside; a bit like Cesc Fabregas can play there for Chelsea, but only if Nemanja Matic is there, too.
How does England’s selection compare with the favourites for the competition? Well, France have four central midfielders who are good at breaking up attacks in their midfield. Yohan Cabaye, Morgan Schneiderlin, N'Golo Kante and Blaise Matuidi.
Belgium have three or four, depending on whether you think Mousa Dembele is good enough there. The others are Marouane Fellaini, Radja Nainggolan and Axel Witsel.
Germany have four. Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Julian Weigl. Finally, Spain have at least three. Sergio Busquets, Mikel San Jose and Bruno Soriano, plus the likes of Koke and Thiago Alcantara, who can both do a better job there than any of England's backups.
If these really strong international sides consider it so important to have such cover for their defensive midfield, why doesn’t England’s manager? The fact is, we only have one holding midfielder left in the 23 who is good at breaking up attacks, and the strongest sides in the competition all have at least three.
Not only are we hoping that Dier doesn’t get suspended, but we are also hoping that he doesn’t get injured.
The final indictment of this puzzling selection is that England’s style of play does not match the squad selection.
Hodgson said during a press conference “systems win you nothing, football players win you games”, which were further meaningless words just glossing over the mistake he has made.
You don’t get many sides playing 1-1-8 formations, no matter what players they have. There’s a reason for that. What wins you games are the right players in the right system. Due to our back line’s lack of ability on the ball, England are not a possession team, yet we have picked a midfield that suggests that we are. It’s a mismatch.
Therefore, except for the Wales game, we are likely to have to soak up pressure and hit teams on the break. We have the attackers to do that, but we don’t have the defence to soak it up and now there is even less protection of it.
There would have been a good argument for starting Dier and Drinkwater in the same XI, in front of our vulnerable defence, but now they aren’t even both in the 23.
So, there we are, all of our eggs sit in the reliable basket that is Eric Dier. If he can play every single game we will have got very lucky.
Was Roy Hodgson wrong to exclude Danny Drinkwater from his final 23-man squad? Let us know YOUR thoughts in the comment section below!
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