During international breaks, football sites are invariably flooded with articles about how England should approach their next fixture and how best to successfully make it into the next major tournament.
However, with England being handed a pretty pedestrian Euro 2016 qualifying group and with the perceived biggest challenge of playing Switzerland away from home already successfully negotiated, perhaps it is of more value to look ahead to the tournament proper. Barring any repeats of the disastrous Euro 2008 qualifying campaign, England should breeze through the group as table toppers. In that case let’s take a look ahead to how England might approach Euro 2016.
The first issue for Roy Hodgson to get to grips with, is settling on his best formation. His critics will point to the fact that he’s had over two years now to decide on his favoured style, but it must be remembered that he has had to deal with a significantly higher turnover of players than his predecessors. While Hodgson has, in the past, been a strict disciple of the old school 4-4-2 he has shown in recent months a willingness to adapt his strategy to accommodate his most prodigious talents.
Still arguably the greatest of those talents is Wayne Rooney. Despite holding 98 England caps most England fans still hold fierce debates about the new captain’s best position. It may well be, that Rooney can find his best position almost by default. Daniel Sturridge’s red-hot form at the back end of last season and his continued improvement means that when fit, he is a certainty in the starting XI. This, coupled alongside Danny Welbeck’s impressive goals to game ratio both for Arsenal and for England when playing as a main striker means that Rooney may have to settle for a position just in behind the front two. He is much better placed there to alter the course of the game as he can come deeper to collect the ball and doesn’t cut such an isolated figure.
During the decisive World Cup matches against Uruguay and Italy, Hodgson plumped for a defensive midfield two of Jordan Henderson and Steven Gerrard. With Gerrard’s retirement, Hodgson is now searching for a new partner for Henderson. This may prove to be a futile search, as whatever your opinion of Gerrard, he was extremely effective at pulling the strings in the England midfield. Hodgson seems to have surmised from the recent qualifiers that his best bet is actually playing a diamond formation in midfield.
With Henderson anchoring the diamond and, with Sturridge fit, Rooney spearheading it, that just leaves the question of the two wide positions. Once again Hodgson has a number of options. Players such as Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling offer huge attacking threats and in full flow would put fear into many international backlines. However, if Hodgson was looking to be conservative, a trait he is showing less and less as he grows into his role, then he could also employ the ultimate utility player; James Milner. Often derided but very rarely puts in a bad performance, Milner could play on the right of tight midfield diamond and provide England with more defensive rigidity.
It’s easy to see why Hodgson often feels the need to tinker with his line-up and formations so often. England have quietly moved into a position where they have enormous competition for places. Players such as Jack Wilshere and Andros Townsend may demand places in the starting XI if they can put in consistent performances through the qualifying campaign. Indeed, Townsend lifted England’s tempo in the week against San Marino just as he did last autumn, and if he can stay fit he may well become a fulcrum for the side. There are also a number of fringe players who have youth on their side, such as Ross Barkley and Fabian Delph. At present, these players are seen as stop gaps or impact players, but two years down the line we may be relying on them to drag the team through a major tournament.
At the back, there is obviously less room for tactical tinkering, unless Hodgson embraces his inner Van Gaal and starts employing James Miner as a wing-back! The central pairing of Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka has been set in stone for the last two years but England’s poor World Cup performances have put a question mark over the experienced double act. It is unfortunate for England that Everton’s John Stones has succumbed to injury just as he was stating a real case for a starting spot in the senior side; it wouldn’t be at all unfeasible to see him lining up in 2016.
Formation and tactics are as much determined by the players at a manager’s disposal as they are by his own footballing philosophies. In fact, surely the hallmark of a great manager is figuring out how to get the maximum result out the players available. England are blessed with a number of exciting but raw attacking players, if Hodgson can hone their attacking flair and add some steel and temperament then England could certainly have a decent run at the Euro’s.
It must also be considered that, of course form and fitness can fluctuate significantly over the next 18 months or so, and the England XI which line up for the first match for Euro 2016 may be greatly different from the side which is marching through qualification thoroughly. In terms of the shape of the side, it is easy to look too far ahead; the formation can be affected by personnel (due to injury of loss or form) or simply because of changing trends in the world game. England must endeavour never to be as far behind international football tactics as they were earlier in the year when Hodgson insisted on playing a flat 4-4-2.
Jordan is a University of Southampton graduate who produces blogs and betting previews for Howtobet4free as well as running the popular @howtobet4free_ Twitter account on matchdays.