Power play is Roy's ploy as hands-on approach puts England on front foot
23:32 GMT, 14 June 2012
Out there on the pitch on Thursday night inside the stunning Olympic Stadium, Roy Hodgson was trying to execute a plan.
It was something new. Something that
had not been tried in an England match and something that, until last
night, had not been tried in a training session at this tournament — the
need for rest and recovery coming before the need for practice since
Monday night’s encounter with France.
Centre of attention: Hodgson puts England through their paces ahead of Friday's crunch clash
But it was ambitious, it was aggressive; it was what Hodgson might call throwing the entire Ikea kitchen at his side’s opponents this evening.
The England manager was very much at the heart of the action, taking up a central position where he could direct and drill his players.
Andy Carroll and Danny Welbeck have not represented England as a partnership before, but there they were working in tandem in the penalty area looking for crosses and passes from the two flanks. On the right stood James Milner and Theo Walcott, on the left Ashley Young and Stewart Downing. When Young was involved so was Milner, pointing to those two wingers starting against the Swedes.
Danny boy: Welbeck is set to keep his place in Hodgson's line-up for the game against Sweden
It was all about pace, precision and
ferocity. A rapid service enhanced further by the arrival of Steven
Gerrard from midfield on the edge of the box. Occasionally balls would
be played back into the path of the England captain, who would be
invited to try and penetrate Hodgson’s back four with a trademark
If England managed just one shot on
target against France, there should be many more this evening. The idea
is to press much higher up the pitch in the cooler, late-evening
temperatures, with Gerrard playing in a more advanced role ahead of
It remains something of a gamble when
some of the players lack international experience. For Carroll it will
be a first competitive start. But this is the position Hodgson has been
left in with Wayne Rooney suspended for one more game and he trusts
these young players to rise to the occasion.
Leading by example: Hodgson and Gerrard speak to the assembled media on Thursday
There is method in what some might see as madness; a plan that also
points to what Hodgson has in mind for Ukraine in the final group game.
It was always thought Young would displace Alex Oxlade- Chamberlain on
the left once Rooney returned.
But now it looks like a straight fight between Carroll and Welbeck to
decide who remains in the England attack alongside Rooney. The smart
money says Welbeck because of the understanding he has developed with
Rooney and Young at Manchester United. But how the young strikers both
perform tonight will obviously influence Hodgson’s thoughts.
For those who start tonight, it will not be easy and not just because
the Swedes have proved such difficult opponents for England in
competitive matches over the years.
Crunch clash: England are favourites to beat Sweden after holding France to a draw
Not once, in seven games dating back to 1988, have England managed to
beat Sweden in a competitive match — losing on two of those occasions.
On two other occasions Sven Goran Eriksson was in charge of England, in
the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, and he drew both times against his native
Yesterday, in the column he writes for the Swedish daily newspaper
Expressen, Eriksson did his best to explain why England always seem to
find them so difficult to beat.
‘Sweden is a tough, a very tough, opponent,’ he said. ‘It’s in the heart
and soul of every Swede to make life miserable for England.
‘Most football crazy Swedes grew up with English football. They have
followed the Premier League on the television and know all the names of
the stars and the biggest personalities.
‘The consequence is that Swedish players always work a little bit harder
when they play England. It’s like a derby to them and that makes Sweden
a nasty rival.’
All smiles: Hodgson will partner Andy Carroll with Danny Welbeck for Friday night's clash with Sweden
It has not been a good week for Sweden. A defeat to Ukraine, via two
Andriy Shevchenko headers, was followed by internal bickering that
seemed to centre, rather predictably, around the outspoken Zlatan
If that might help England so, presumably, will the fact that in Hodgson
they have a manager who has beaten Sweden in a competitive game. ‘With
Switzerland and Finland I think I’ve played them four times,’ he said of
a country he also worked in for 12 years. ‘I believe I’ve won two and
He was reluctant to describe himself as England’s ‘secret weapon’ but
it is the kind of experience that should count for something.
That said, Eriksson might have accused England of making a familiar mistake.
While Hodgson and Gerrard made a point of showing their opponents
respect, they did give assurances that they would be more attacking
tonight because ‘Sweden are not France’.
Starlet: Has Oxlade-Chamberlain done enough to retain his starting berth against the Swedes
‘Both times we played Sweden I tried to get into the players and the
journalists heads, just to really get them to realise that Sweden isn’t
an easy opponent,’ said Eriksson.
‘Sometimes I could sense that they underestimated Sweden. That our
English squad thought that it would be an easy game. I was right, I’m
He would, however, agree with Hodgson’s ‘high tempo’ approach. ‘That’s the only way to hurt Sweden,’ he said.
In Ibrahimovic they do have an ‘amazing player’ Eriksson considers capable of scoring the winning goal.
Pace-setters: England know a win against Sweden will leave them in a good position ahead of their final group game
But last night Hodgson preferred to focus on his players, defending them
at one stage when he was asked if he agreed that they lacked the
technical ability of other teams in the competition. ‘No I don’t,’ he
said. ‘Full stop.’
Gerrard was also in a feisty mood. ‘Everyone’s role maybe changes
slightly now,’ he said. ‘The whole team can be slightly more ambitious;
we can attack more and maybe take slightly more risks. You will see a
better performance going forward from the team.
‘We have watched tapes of Sweden and we have seen their weaknesses. I
think we have the players to exploit those weaknesses. They have
conceded a lot of goals from crosses and that is an area we will be
trying to concentrate on.’
They certainly were in training here last night.
All eyes on you: Gerrard is confident England will beat Sweden