Changing half of your team for a must-win match smacks of lack of preparation or lunacy. Roy Hodgson, for his limitations, is guilty of neither. Perhaps he was pressurised to make (some) changes or he’s possibly decided to abandon his usual pragmatism. A bit of both is seems but also experience guiding his preparation for the knock-out rounds.
He was almost forced to bring Vardy and Sturridge to the fore for their midweek heroics against Wales. The Liverpool man will have endured the Slovakian centre back Martin Skrtel many times at Melwood and will be all too aware of his wind-up tactics. The former City striker can be an elusive presence to defenders because of his agility and curiosity of the attacking third so that may be a battle tipped towards England.
As would Vardy running beyond Skrtel. Either way, the decision to rest an all-enabling but nothing-doing Harry Kane was the correct one for Hodgson. It gives him a chance to experiment when he otherwise wouldn’t have had to.
Fullbacks was an area of interest though. Since they do the most sprinting amongst the group and have had a gruelling campaign as Pochettino’s outlets. Kyle Walker has been the centre of majority of individual praise so far this tournament but brining in Nathaniel Clyne is not a major worry.
By virtue of his positioning and finding lots of space Walker has been a key resource down the right flank for delivery and defending. Clyne possesses similar pace and has a good understanding of that role as the main outlet on the right having done so for Liverpool. Bertrand could argue a similar case insofar as it’s a like-for-like change but the rest this affords Rose is hugely important.
The midfield is the area that will raise the most questions especially because everyone has been blown away by Wayne Rooney’s performances in the middle of the park. Allow me a minute to oppose that: Rooney is not a midfielder and has hoodwinked people into thinking he can play there because of his long passing. Admittedly, it produces some moments of wonder but mainly fails in its main function.
After the FA Cup Final the Irish Times’ Ken Early mentioned on the Second Captains podcast that the whole point of playing the ball across the field is to catch defences out or shift the impetus of the attack quickly but Rooney floats his long passes. Except when Kyle walker is cantering into space the captain tends to do that.
He requires so much time and space to receive, decide and release that you can tell the feeling is unnatural. The fact that he’s even considered there is altogether another argument but it remains clear he’s a burden on Eric Dier and should not be in the midfield.
Henderson and Wilshere between them will be expected to assist Dier with defensive duties and distribution from deep. Although, with no natural width in the side there will be opportunities for Henderson to peel wide right. Unless Adam Lallana is given the freedom to play centrally we may see the midfielders running with the ball on the transition which could point to a lack of cohesion.
The progression of Hodgson towards making the attack the key part of the pitch has come leaps and bounds since qualification. He’s recognised England’s strengths are at the top end of the pitch but not how to get the best out of them yet. The Slovakia game tonight gives him a chance to cover the fragilities of Raheem Sterling but also rest some key players.