|picture courtesy of herzglut.com|
England enter Euro 2012 under a cloud of shrouded optimism and backed by a pessimistic nation. For the first time in living memory, England and their adoring public have somewhat fallen out of love and our national team are not even expected to achieve qualification out of the group stages by some quarters. However, I ask you, the once adoring English public, are we really as bad as we think we are?
I don't want to raise any false optimism here, but on first glance we have a perfectly adequate squad capable of performing to a acceptable level under the wise and well-organised stewardship of Roy Hodgson, and I can imagine most of Europe are thinking the same. Lets start at the back. Joe Hart is one of the best goalkeepers in Europe, if not the world. Arguably one of the most talented minders between the sticks we have ever had and not only that, but a character in the dressing too. Hart, a possible future England captain, is most definitely a solid base upon which to build this hopefully successful England team. Then you consider our back 4, and considering all of our injuries and omissions, it is still a fairly strong and solid unit especially after Hodgson has sorted them out. Johnson may not be everyone's first choice RB but as a Pompey supporter who arguably witnessed his best form as he was the shining star in a fairly average Premiership team will testify to his undoubted quality. Furthermore, Phil Jones is a more than adequate backup in this position, as is Phil Jagielka. Now we move to the middle of defence and Terry and Lescott offer a more than useful partnership. Whatever you think about John Terry as a person and a player, and it is fair to say he can have woeful days as both, he can be one of the most passionate, dedicated and talented centre backs in the business. People may say his positioning and legs have come under question, but since when were grit and determination lesser aspects of football than skill and ability. Lescott, fresh off winning the Premiership this season, has proved himself to be a consistent performer over the last decade for Wolves, Everton and Manchester City respectably. If he could recreate the Kompany-Lescott partnership with Terry then England will be in more than safe hands. We finish our back 4 with Ashley Cole. Another questionable soul, but a left back with undoubted talent and one with all the accolades under his belt apart from an International medal and one would be foolish to think he would be trying any more than 100% to complete his collection this summer.
This is where Hodgson's selection can get tricky. Fans of the Football Manager franchise will know the successes and pitfalls of the 4-4-2 and 4-1-2-2-1 (also known as 4-5-1 and 4-3-3) systems. Assuming that Hodgson will go for the 4-4-2 system that has served him so well, more recently at the ever improving West Brom, Roy has many options to use on his wings. Theo Walcott enters the Euro's on the back of his best ever season for Arsenal providing 11 goals and 12 assists for the Gunners suggesting he is more than just quick. Another Arsenal starlet who is more than useful on the right hand side is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Portsmouth-born ace is adapt on either wing but has proved himself more down the middle in his breakthrough season. James Milner is another name that can provide England with enjoyable flexibility within their midfield as he has played on either wing or down the middle in Manchester City's title winning season, featuring in the memorable 6-1 victory at Old Trafford, playing excellently down the right wing. Ashley Young is another, and perhaps key name, when it comes to shaping England's midfield. Expected to play just behind a lone striker in the opening Group D fixture against France, in the absence of Wayne Rooney, Young will be the main creative outlet in the England side. He has featured in the two goals scored under the Hodgson reign and the pressure on his shoulders appears to have not yet affected the United winger. This opens up a spot on the left hand side for much-maligned Stewart Downing to prove his worth. After a torrid first season with the underachieving Liverpool and a bemused nation already calling for his head, Downing is in the position to prove his doubters wrong. The centre of midfield provides England supporters with both some slim hope but also with tactical doubts. Scott Parker and captain Steven Gerrard are nailed on to be the midfield duo to start against France and although the former is a midfield general personified, the latter could be seen as the least Hodgson-esque player in the squad. In recent seasons, without the protection of Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano in the Liverpool midfield, Steven Gerrard has been found out, to some extent, to be tactically unconvincing, constantly dragging himself and others out of position disrupting the tactical discipline Hodgson will be craving. Milner and Jordan Henderson, who will be aiming to recapture the sparkling form he found in a Sunderland shirt, will give Hodgson other options in the middle if he first choice pairing should be interrupted.
In Wayne Rooney, England have a world-class player that will hopefully come out of suspension fresh and ready to feed upon the creative outlets in the England side. In the way many Hodgson sides set-up in trying to be hard to beat, Rooney will often have to feed off scraps or come deep and eventually get on the end of a counter attack. A player of Rooney's ability will see him play either role. However, who to replace him in the opening two matches and perhaps even partner him in further fixtures is a difficult and nice choice. Andy Carroll is another one of those common beasts, an under-pressure and much criticised Liverpool player. However, evidence suggests he is still the man for a big occasion (FA Cup Semi-Final and Final and even away at Newcastle forgetting that tragic dive) and improved notably towards the end of the season. Danny Welbeck scored with an accomplished finish against Belgium in the warm up friendly and has struck up an impressive partnership with Wayne Rooney this season. He offers pace and trickery and the kind of enthusiastic inexperience that may serve him well in his first major tournament. Jermaine Defoe is a complete finisher and poacher in front of goal and is arguably one of the best in and around the penalty box in the tournament and can always be relied upon to grab a goal off the bench, a role he has occupied for Tottenham for much for the previous season.
But it has to be said, for every positive in this England squad, the media will undoubtedly find another negative but it is their dampened confidence being portrayed to the English nation that could give England the break they need. And maybe, just maybe, if, and that is a big if, everything goes to plan, Roy's boy's might just surprise one or two people.
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