Many England fans will look back on the ‘shambolic’ World Cup campaign in Brazil, in which the country crashed out in the group stages, calling for Roy Hodgson to relinquish the traditional shackles this time round.
Yet, against far superior opponents in Italy and Uruguay, was it an overly cautious attitude that really cost us dearly? Let’s look at the facts.
In both of those games, England started with Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Danny Welbeck all in the side – four forwards exposing an ageing Steven Gerrard and a largely ineffective Jordan Henderson in midfield. We were consequently then hit on the break on both occasions with Mario Balotelli and Luis Suarez the main beneficiaries.
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Fast-forward two years and we could be sleep-walking into the same issue again. Having only called up seven defenders, and only one out-and-out defensive midfielder (in Eric Dier), we could leave what already looks a fragile defence vulnerable again.
At international level, playing at the pace of the Premier League simply isn’t an option and many successful nations adopt a slower tempo with possession at the heart of their philosophies. Think Holland and Germany in Brazil – both adopted two holding midfielders to screen their back-fours and keep the ball.
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However, Roy has bowed to public opinion again.
Seemingly, determined not to be typecast as a defensive coach, Hodgson has taken five strikers, including young prodigy Marcus Rashford. Yet this is at the expense of an experienced holding midfielder to take the pressure off Dier. Title-winner Danny Drinkwater was abandoned at the last opportunity and a player such as Michael Carrick - with the knowledge and experience of the game at the highest level – wasn’t even considered.
While we know Jack Wilshere can ‘do a job’ at CDM, in the latter stages of the tournament, England need players performing their roles to the best of their abilities. Chris Smalling has had a strong season and Gary Cahill is usually dependable, but we’re not talking about the powerhouses of previous sides. Without experienced and dedicated support from midfield, these two could be put under a lot of pressure from the get-go.
Hopefully, this theory is proven wrong and the Three lions turn in a performance that echoes the recent successes in Munich and throughout the qualifying campaign. But there is a fear that Hodgson has sought after a legacy as the England manager that threw caution to the wind, rather than play to our individual strengths.
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