It was a match dubbed ‘big brother vs little brother’. Wales through Gareth Bale talked up a good one pre game. England via Roy Hodgson and Wayne Rooney refused to be dragged into any banter and ignored little brother’s comments. At half time England were the ones under pressure, potentially staring down the barrel of elimination, and once again disappointing their legion of fans worldwide. Prior to the second half kickoff, Hodgson hooked the ineffective Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling from his three man front line for centre forwards Daniel Sturridge and Jamie Vardy. Incidentally the gamble paid off as both scored a goal each, with the former scoring an injury time winner. Have both strikers forced their way into the starting eleven versus Slovakia? Most fans of England and football in general seem to think so.
With England bringing five centre forwards to Euros, they’re all but spoiled for choice and will likely have to play in a more attacking fashion. They should because that’s where their strengths lie. One of their strikers is their captain who during this tournament has adapted to the midfield role seamlessly. He had a very good game against the Russians and bossed the Welsh especially Aaron Ramsay for a Man of the Match performance. If England were to line up with both Vardy and Sturridge from the start against Slovakia, how would the team strike a balance? During most of the Euro qualifier games, England used a diamond 4-4-2. It was shelved for a bit then came back in recent friendlies and Hodgson said his team has to be prepared for more than one formation this tournament. If there was ever a time for this formation from start then it is against Slovakia.
Currently sitting atop their group with four points and with potentially a third place bringing you to round of sixteen, England pretty much have one foot in. It is important to top the group to get a possibly ‘easier’ opponent in the next round. The general consensus is that most big teams are still looking for the right balance leading into the knockout rounds. We saw Belgium struggle against Italy, make a few changes, and look like a different team against the Irish. We saw France make a few changes against Albania, then make a few subs to ‘correct’ those changes, and win late against Albania. We see Germany using a false number nine with Mario Gotze, everything about it indeed looking false. They’re likely to change for their third game with Thomas Muller or a seemingly not trusted Mario Gomez up top. There is also the option of using Andre Schurrle as a striker. It’s very important that big teams peak at the right time while ensuring they avoid unnecessary draws and losses in group games.
If indeed Hodgson makes the changes for a diamond 4-4-2, then Kane and Sterling should be dropped for Vardy and Sturridge. The number ten role would go to Dele Alli instead of Rooney. Rooney, who is a striker by trade, will likely get too high up the field and push both centre forwards apart thus disrupting the link between them. Alli seems better equipped at this time for that role as opposed to the box to box role he has been entrusted with in this tournament, albeit assisting the winner against Wales. Rooney should occupy a box to box role along with Wilshere. That would mean Dier as the holding midfielder, completed by the same back line and goalkeeper. Adam Lallana will complete the original three man front line wipeout. Surprisingly, of the three, he has been the best player and should have had at least a goal and assist so far as he missed some chances against Russia and Sterling skied a sitter against Wales from his pass. However, Jack Wilshere is a far better option to dictate play from deep while Lallana’s stock trade is that he’s better at coming from wide areas and linking up with the front men. The width will come from the Spurs full backs who are having good tournaments so far and aren’t shy to come forward and attack regularly.
It is important that England realise that they aren’t a team that regularly keeps clean sheets and bringing several attackers means that’s their strength. Based on the balance of play at this point, this seems the best way in getting them to utilise their attacking strengths with two different types of forwards who are both goal scorers, whilst maintaining a balance in defense. Slovakia is a high enough quality opponent from which England can determine if this formation can be persisted with.
It’s a matter of wait and see for the English diamond.