England manager Roy Hodgson heads to the European Championships with questions unanswered. Richard Sutcliffe reports.
AFTER a Wembley send-off that posed more questions than provided answers, Roy Hodgson insisted any problems England have going into Euro 2016 are positives ones.
Chris Smalling’s first international goal ensured the Three Lions signed off in front of their own fans with a victory as 10-man Portugal were beaten 1-0.
The performance, though, was way below what will be needed to make an impact in France. Hodgson selected an attack-minded XI but the parts were greater than the sum thanks to the likes of Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy drifting to the fringes of both the game and the pitch.
Wayne Rooney’s tendency to play through the middle, almost akin to being a third striker, despite supposedly occupying a ‘No 10’ role was a big talking point afterwards with the suspicion being that Hodgson’s determination to accommodate his captain at all costs could backfire. The England manager, though, was determined not to let talk of Rooney dominate the post-match agenda.
“I am not prepared to make this the Wayne Rooney show,” said Hodgson. “Wayne was one of the players out there.
“Once again we changed our system, did so on several occasions. We started with two strikers, Rooney in a ‘No 10’ position and then we decided when we brought on Raheem Sterling in particular and Adam Lallana – Daniel Sturridge, too – to play a more traditional way.
“If you think (about) the way we have played over the last couple of years, (it has been) with Sterling on one side, Lallana on the other, Sturridge down the middle.
“Which one works best? Well, you have to be careful there because the three at the end were playing against a team which was tiring and, furthermore, they were playing against a team which had allowed total domination of the ball – whereas, the first lads were playing for at least 35 minutes against 11 men who had some desire to attack.”
Recent history suggests that the England team to face Russia a week today in Euro 2016 will be very similar to the XI who took on Portugal.
Ahead of both Euro 2012 and the World Cup in Brazil two years later, 10 of the 11 players who kicked off in the tournament had started the final warm-up game.
That suggests the formation that had Dele Alli on the left of a midfield diamond and James Milner on the right is likely.
If that this proves to be the case, England must surely rethink their approach with Vardy, in particular, likely to be able to expose an ageing Russian defence with his pace if his team-mates can get the ball forward as quickly as Leicester did last season.
The one plus from such a flat send-off on Thursday was Hodgson’s selection of personnel with, on paper at least, his XI dripping with attacking talent.
Vardy and Kane, for instance, netted 49 times between them in the Premier League last term, while Rooney – if told to play in a role more similar to the one that proved so effective in Manchester United’s FA Cup triumph over Crystal Palace – can dovetail well with Alli and the hard-working Milner.
“It is a good problem to have, shoe-horning in attacking players,” said Hodgson when asked about the many options at his disposal.
“I don’t think for a long time that I have had that, a lot of good attacking players, players to shoehorn so you won’t find me complaining about that.
“You would find me complaining if we weren’t defending as a team, conceding lots of goals and chances, and every time we played we needed to score three to win a game. I have seen no evidence of that.
“I am pretty sure if I asked what is our best XI, there would be different ideas on what our best XI is. There have been times where I have stood here and you are saying to me there are no alternatives, now you all suggest a different XI, different ideas. That is how it should be.”