June the 27th; the morning of England’s last 16 tie with Iceland.
Three group games have been played producing 5 points with mixed performances, mixed results, mixed squad selections and mixed squad formations.
The opening group game against Russia saw England concede an injury-time equaliser via Vasili Berezutski in a 1-1 draw that Hodgson’s men dominated. Eric Dier, (who has arguably been England’s player of the tournament until this point) had earlier crashed a 20-yard free-kick high past Igor Akinfeev on 73 minutes. The Three Lions had put in an excellent commanding performance but the game highlighted the lack of a clinical edge in the team. Jamie Vardy (Barclays Player of the Season 2015-2016) was bizarrely left on the bench with Raheem Sterling earning a place on the left side of attack in support of Harry Kane. Sterling; a player who has suffered from a much-publicised lack of form at his club Man City this season.
England’s second game of the group saw Daniel Sturridge snatch a dramatic injury-time winner in a 2-1 victory over home-nations rivals Wales. A cagey and tentative first-half performance was made more difficult when England walked in at half-time 1-0 down after Joe Hart’s blunder allowed Gareth Bale’s 30-yard free-kick creep in.
Hodgson stuck with the same team who started the opening fixture but it immediately appeared that England were being outmuscled in the midfield and were stale in creating any sort of chances. Wayne Rooney and Dele Ali were being dragged back far too deep by the movement of Wales’ midfield, leaving a jaded-looking Harry Kane isolated. Raheem Sterling was just an ineffectual as against Russia. Changes were clearly necessary or a tournament exit was imminent.
Hodgson gambled by taking off Sterling and Kane for Sturridge and Vardy. Momentum immediately shifted as England were then able to dominate possession and camp inside the Wales half. Eventually, the much-admirable Welsh resistance was broken as the English kitchen sink was thrown at Wales and Daniel Sturridge poked home a close-range finish on 91 minutes to the nation’s immense relief.
With the knowledge that a win would have ensured England’s qualification as group winners, Hodgson took a risk in the last game against Slovakia by making as many as six selection changes. Hodgson chose to leave out Rooney, Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Dele Ali, Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane and introduced Vardy and Daniel Sturridge, as well as Clyne, Ryan Bertrand, Wilshere and Jordan Henderson. Predictably, England looked disjointed and unclear as to player roles, formation and despite boasting 61% possession in the game, really stuggled to carve out notable chances in the game; 0-0 was the final score.
Hodgson has had two years of the European qualification campaign to experiment and consider his strongest players in a formation that suits them individually to allow them to build team chemistry for this tournament. The fact that we are still tinkering with players in unfamiliar positions like Jamie Vardy on the left-hand side against Slovakia is a worrying indication of the leadership in the current dressing room at management level.
Iceland on Monday evening (20.00 hrs); it’s a time for Roy to be bold. If he picks Jamie Vardy to start the game, play him alongside Harry Kane as a central striker (instead of on the wing) to ensure the Icelandic defence have no time on the ball. Push Dele Ali or Wayne Rooney further forward to play in the hole. Ensure the full-backs Kyle Walker and Danny Rose are disciplined in how they balance attacking and defending.
Be bold Roy and seal our quarter-final tie against France.