No va-voom in England's engine room: Roy hoping Parker and Gerrard can step on the gas
00:38 GMT, 13 June 2012
While the Swedes have a good old domestic, England will have a ‘family day'. Wives, girlfriends, friends and family will be dropping in after training and spending a few precious hours with the players before the serious business resumes for Friday’s encounter in Kiev.
There is harmony here right now, with Roy Hodgson more than satisfied with his side’s introduction to this tournament. The draw with France was a decent start on which England can build.
But there are some nagging concerns and chief among those is the state of the England engine room; more specifically the state of Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker.
Thirtysomethings: Scott Parker and Steven Gerrard could not be faulted for their efforts against France, but can their bodies take it
After watching his central midfield pair run themselves to the point of exhaustion against France, Hodgson knows he has to handle them with care when injuries to Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry and Jack Wilshere have left him so short of top-quality cover. Gerrard has a long-standing back complaint, while Parker is still returning to full fitness after an achilles problem.
Asked if a game every four days would be asking too much of them, Hodgson was candid in his response. ‘I don’t know the answer to that,’ he said. ‘Obviously those two are both over 30 and they both had to work really, really hard.
‘I’m sure I’m not going to be the only coach wondering, “Can they do it every four days” but this is what tournament football is about. What we’ve got to do if they can’t, or if they start to show signs of fatigue earlier in the second half than they did against France, is make sure that players like Jordan Henderson, or Milner if he’s moved in there, or Jones or Jagielka, are ready to do exactly the same job.’
Some time with loved ones should freshen the mind and Hodgson will leave it to his medical staff to make sure the players are prepared physically for a Swedish side who need to win even more than England, after losing to Ukraine.
Uphill task: Sweden's loss to Ukraine means they must get a result against England
Speaking late on Monday night, Hodgson made it clear he wants to stick with the side that started against France. ‘We don’t need horses for courses,’ he said. ‘Our players are capable of playing against two different styles of football.
‘Of course, I will have to assess the freshness and see whether or not they are able to do that again. But my gut feeling is that if we have a good recovery day on Tuesday, a sensible training day on Wednesday and sensible recovery day on Thursday, it’s going to make it very hard for us to leave them out.
‘I think if we said, “We’re going to give you a rest because it’s too much to play two games in four days” some of them would have us up against the wall! The mood in the dressing room is really good. It’s exceptionally good.’
Hodgson can take confidence from knowing his side can improve significantly with the return of the suspended Wayne Rooney for the final group game against Ukraine in Donetsk.
Chomping at the bit: Wayne Rooney has one more game on the sidelines before he can play
Rooney will not just enhance England’s goal threat, he will help bridge the chasm that developed at times between midfield and attack on Monday night.
‘Our real ace in the hole should be Wayne Rooney, because he is very fit and he’s raring to go,’ said Hodgson. ‘He really can’t wait to get on the field and if he can play like Wayne Rooney, then we’re going to be a bit more difficult to beat for some of these teams. You can only benefit from having someone of his quality in your team.’
Against Sweden, though, improvements need to come from the players Hodgson has available now. The later kick-off time and cooler temperatures will help. But there does need to be more ambition and cohesion, not least between midfield and attack where players such as Danny Welbeck and Ashley Young were starved of the ball. Asked where he needs to focus his attention, the England manager said: ‘It’s in the final third, isn’t it, really
‘Once or twice, especially in the first half, there were some very promising counter-attacks and they broke down because we tried a one-touch pass to finish it off rather than taking that extra touch.
Ploughing a lone furrow: Danny Welbeck was increasingly isolated against France
‘The French were just the opposite. They don’t play a lot of one-touch football around the penalty box. They play a lot of two, three touches, holding on to the ball and asking another question.
‘Sometimes I think we want to try and finish it off too quickly. I think that’s because of the way things are in the Premier League — that intensity. But we must remember that we had Ashley Young, who hasn’t always played that position and Danny Welbeck, who is 21.
‘You’ve got to make allowances for the fact that they had (Karim) Benzema, who is much older and playing for Real Madrid, and Samir Nasri.
‘Welbeck did really well, but maybe looking at France you can expect a bit more from them when they get in the final third than I can expect from our players at the moment.’
Hodgson said his players were ‘nervous’; that first and foremost they ‘did not want to lose’.
But any satisfaction he feels will not turn to complacency. ‘I’m very much aware that the happiness could turn to sadness very quickly,’ he said.
The only way to avoid becoming like Sweden is to beat them.