Le Crunch: Spotlight on England and France ahead of Group D opener
21:00 GMT, 9 June 2012
It's the one we've all been waiting for. Ever since the draw for Euro 2012 was made England fans have been counting down the days to Monday's clash with France. Here, Sportsmail previews 'Le Crunch'…
Key role: Joleon Lescott (left) has never played alongside John Terry at centre-half for England, but should know plenty about the talents of France's Samir Nasri (right), his team-mate at City
Who leads the team
England: A group of senior players.
Steven Gerrard, as captain, is technically the leader. However, former skipper John Terry is in the background and has had to be told by Roy Hodgson to let the Liverpool midfielder do things his way.
Wayne Rooney is always a big presence in the squad, too, even when he is not playing and Scott Parker has worn the armband recently as well.
France: No one, really.
‘Do we have someone who can be the coach’s reflection on the pitch like we had in 1998 No,’ said manager Laurent Blanc of France’s leadership crisis.
He spent 18 months passing the captain’s armband around – between Philippe Mexes, Alou Diarra, Eric Abidal and Florent Malouda – before settling on understated keeper Hugo Lloris as skipper. That says it all.
‘I wish I had someone who could analyse the game and decide what to do straightaway,’ added the coach.
Le skipper: France keeper Hugo Lloris
How strong are they defensively
TIME TO PLAY THE HODGSON WAY…
It is defence first for Roy Hodgson as England look to counter-attack their way to glory:
1 The first priority for Scott Parker and Steven Gerrard is to protect the back four. They are supposed to start attacks, too, but are likely to be restricted to the grey shaded area mostly and that can leave them too far away from the strikers.
2 The wide players have to work hard to get forward and back and are asked to leave space for the full-backs to overlap.
3 Danny Welbeck is the focal point of the attack, having to hold up long balls and create space for Ashley Young to attack from deep.
4 The players work in pairs, with John Terry and Joleon Lescott the foundation for the system.
England: Reasonably strong on paper but, in practice, unknown.
Terry and Joleon Lescott have never played together in the middle for England, who have had nine centre-half partnerships in the last 17 games, and pairing them means the Chelsea captain has to vacate his favourite left side.
Ashley Cole is one of the best left-backs in the world but Glen Johnson can be tactically naive on the right. Gerrard’s discipline in midfield will be important, too, as he and Parker are supposed to fortify the team’s defence.
France: Not as strong as they were.
Blanc’s first-choice centre-halves have been Mexes and Adil Rami for two years but, in recent weeks, they have looked off form. Rami seems fatigued after playing more than 50 games for Valencia this season, while Blanc has had to deny suggestions that Mexes, who was slow and made mistakes in last week’s friendly against Estonia, is overweight. Laurent Koscielny is next in line, and calls are increasing for him to start.
Key man: Ashley Cole is one of the best left-backs in world football
Is the midfield a hub of creativity
Nicola Rizzoli, 40: An architect from Mirandola in Emilia-Romagna, Italy
Performance in 18 Serie A games last season: 535 fouls, 9 pens, 91 yellow cards, 5 reds
Biggest game: Europa League final in 2010 between Hodgson’s Fulham and Atletico Madrid
British controversy: Criticised by Sir Alex Ferguson for bowing to ‘German pressure’ after sending off United’s Rafael in Champions League against Bayern in 2010
Parker and Gerrard are primarily there to break up play and support the defence.
Unless the spark comes in the form of a long pass, the wide players get the job of creating but have to combine that with some hard yards getting up and down the touchline to support the strikers, midfield and defence.
James Milner, as one of them, is solid rather than spectacular and Stewart Downing, on the other side, has more than a few detractors.
After two years without a goal for Les Bleus, left-winger Franck Ribery now has three in three games, while Samir Nasri has been moved from a central playmaker role to wide right, giving good creative options.
There is Ribery’s dribbling, Nasri’s ability to pick a pass, Yohan Cabaye’s shooting from range, and, in Patrice Evra and Mathieu Debuchy, full-backs who are not afraid to attack.
Blanc has tinkered with his tactics lately, with a 4-3-3 system producing the best performance of his reign, a 2-0 qualifying win in Bosnia.
Cabaye and Alou Diarra should be in the middle against England with Malouda, after his excellent performances in the last two friendlies, a surprise choice alongside them.
Being Franck: France's Ribery
How potent is their goal threat
England: Not as potent as France’s while Wayne Rooney is suspended (the French starting XI have 54 league goals and 44 assists this season to England’s 32 and 27).
Ashley Young has looked a handful in the warm-up games and Danny Welbeck, who leads the line well, scored a great goal.
Andy Carroll provides the aerial threat and Jermain Defoe is the fox in the box, so it is a balanced attack but they may not get great service and Rooney’s creativity with and without the ball will be missed.
Karim Benzema, ignored at the World Cup, is in the best form of his career, and has had his most prolific season in Madrid, with 21 league goals.
If goals are hard to come by, Blanc can also call upon Olivier Giroud, Ligue 1’s top goalscorer for Montpellier last season and a transfer target for Arsenal, to offer a more physical challenge.
Leading the line: Welbeck (right) is likely to start for England
Have they got a wild card
England: Yes. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Young and a little naive, but the Arsenal forward is confident enough to take on defenders and not afraid to shoot. His pace could frighten a few, too, and introducing him from the bench could be a fruitful approach.
Beyond that, Theo Walcott does not quite fit the bill but has plenty to prove still and that might help.
France: Yes. Several.
Despite losing Loic Remy to injury, there is strength in depth: Hatem Ben Arfa and Jeremy Menez can cause havoc if allowed to run at defences, while Mathieu Valbuena and Marvin Martin could slot in at No 10.
Giroud, though, is the biggest unknown.
FORM GUIDE TO STARTING XI (Based on form in league this season): England (4-4-2)
Joe Hart (Man City) – 29 clean sheets, 77% of shots saved
Glen Johnson (Liverpool) – no assists in 23 appearances
Joleon Lescott (Man City) – won 39 of the 43 tackles he made
John Terry (Chelsea) – eight yellows in 31 games, the most in the squad
Ashley Cole (Chelsea) – six assists in 32 games, the third most in the 23-man squad
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool) – five goals, two assists in 12 starts
Scott Parker (Spurs) – 14 shots in 29 games, 11 were off target
James Milner (Man City) – completed 20 of his 83 crosses
Ashley Young (Man Utd) – seven assists, 28 chances in 25 games
Stewart Downing (Liverpool) – no goals or assists in 36 matches
Danny Welbeck (Man Utd) – nine goals from 57 shots
FORM GUIDE TO STARTING XI (Based on form in league this season): France (4-3-3)
Hugo Lloris (Lyon) – conceded 48 goals in 36 appearance
Philippe Mexes (AC Milan) – won 15 of 23 tackles made
Adil Rami (Valencia) – 2,969mins played in 33 starts, second most in the squad
Patrice Evra (Man Utd) – made 104 tackles, won 80
Mathieu Debuchy (Lille) – booked just once in 33 games
Alou Diarra (Marseille) – nine dribbles in 34 appearances
Florent Malouda (Chelsea) – started only 11 of his 26 matches
Yohan Cabaye (Newcastle) – made 117 tackles, winning 83
Franck Ribery (B Munich) – 12 goals and 12 assists in 32 games
Karim Benzema (R Madrid) – 21 goals and seven assists in 34 games
Samir Nasri (Man City) – 69 chances created in 31 games, nine led to goals