Give The Ox his chance and he can have the impact of Owen in 1998
23:31 GMT, 9 June 2012
An England manager has never
approached a major tournament with as little time to prepare as Roy
Hodgson but what is already clear, even after the two friendly games, is
that England are going to be difficult to beat and will play
Roy has decided to mimic what his club
sides did and, with so little time to plan, he is probably right to do
that. And if you are going to play counter-attacking football and have
minimal chances, then you have to have a striker with a finisher’s head
on, which is why I would start with Danny Welbeck, who showed that
He had only one chance and took it
superbly. He also holds the ball up well, so the team can get out of
defence and support him. And he gives you that threat running in behind
opposition defences, which Andy Carroll, who would be a very good
substitute option, will not.
Class finish: Danny Welbeck had one chance against Belgium and he took it brilliantly
Ashley Young will probably play in the
pocket behind the striker but it is not as natural to him, playing on
the half-turn, as it is coming in from a wide position and Wayne Rooney
will surely play there when his suspension is over.
So, while Young will start there, I would hope we will see some rotation of the position, with either Theo Walcott or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. In fact, I feel Oxlade-Chamberlain showed enough on his debut a fortnight ago to demonstrate that he deserves a start ahead of Stewart Downing.
Sometimes when you’re young you don’t understand about the pressure and there is less fear. It is similar to the dilemma I had with Michael Owen in 1998, although Roy does not quite have the attacking options I was blessed with in Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham. That allowed me to ease Michael into the tournament.
But this team need some pace, which Oxlade-Chamberlain would give you, as well as the ability to come inside and rotate with Young. He seems full of confidence and a mature lad, so if he starts I don’t think he would let England down one bit.
Follow my lead: Michael Owen announced himself to the world with a stunning goal against Argentina and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain can make a similar impression
My query with the current system would be whether we are going to be able to get forward, retain the ball and create chances.
At the moment, England are winning the ball far too deep, in their defensive third of the pitch, so that when they get it they are often in a pressurised situation and so make a rushed clearance because there is a panic on.
Even if there is time to pass out, there is a big gap between the midfield and the strikers, which means it is hard to find your man and retain possession, so you find the ball keeps coming back at you.
When we scored against Belgium we did actually win the ball in the middle third of the pitch, when Steven Gerrard pressed and won the ball for Young to set up Welbeck. England will need to work hard at ensuring they do more of that — and don’t find themselves sitting too deep — if they are to create chances. If you do that, you will catch teams out, now that full-backs push on so far in modern football.
Making an entrance: Michael Owen made quite an impression 14 years ago
However, I have my reservations as to whether we will be able to do that and if the midfield is deep and right on the toes of the back four, it is very hard to counter quickly.
The plus points of Roy’s system are that teams will struggle to break us down. Belgium have talented players but they struggled to get round the back of us — and that is crucial if you are trying to stop teams at international level.
Defensively we will be very tight. The distance between the players and the two lines of four defenders and midfielders will be very narrow, much like Chelsea were against Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
I’m interested to see how this develops in this tournament. As England manager I always felt we needed an extra man in midfield to retain the ball, but that was more as an attacking ploy to help create opportunities. It came from my experience playing international football in a 4-4-2 and spending half my time chasing the ball.
Well-organised: England are unlikely to be spectacular at Euro 2012
There is a question mark with a 4-4-2 as to how we will retain possession. We were outpassed by Belgium and Norway and we are going to face far better teams in this tournament, such as France.
Whether this system is right for the long term remains to be seen and perhaps Roy will tinker with it as the years go by. But with the injuries to players he has had to deal with and the lack of preparation, the way he sets his teams up is probably the best possibility we have for a decent tournament.
If we had a coach who came in now and wanted to play attacking football, throw the full-backs forward and try to retain the ball, with this squad of players and the lack of time they have had together, they would probably be out on a limb and get caught out.
Who knows We have always failed when expectations have been excessively high. We are better when our backs are against the wall, so now that the mood is less expectant let’s hope the pressure will be off and the players can play with freedom. We might just surprise ourselves.
New-look France have flair but Germany are still my favourites
France represent a stern test for England. While they may have had problems at recent tournaments, this is a new generation and, with Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema, as well as Hatem Ben Arfa and Jeremy Menez in reserve, they have some of the best attackers in the tournament and are one of the most exciting teams at Euro 2012.
Shooting star: Mesut Ozil
I also thought Russia might be the surprise element, even before they won 4-1 against the Czech Republic on Friday. Coached by Dick Advocaat, they are well organised and Andrey Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko seem to perform better for their country than their clubs.
But, for me, Germany are the favourites. They were a good side at the World Cup two years ago but were not quite ready. They might be now. They have a cutting edge up front and, in Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil and Toni Kroos, they have midfielders who can score playing in front of a solid defence.
The balance of the side is right and that’s why I go for them, just ahead of Spain and Holland, strong though those two sides are. Spain are likely to start without Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas, while Holland will probably have Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Rafael van der Vaart on the bench.
What would England give to have a couple of players like that
England must forget Rio row
My saddest decision in football was leaving Paul Gascoigne out of the 1998 World Cup finals. But he wasn’t fit enough and once that decision is made, as a manager and a group of players, you forget about who isn’t there and focus on the job.
So while I was surprised to see Rio Ferdinand excluded from the initial squad and even more so after all the injuries — especially given the lack of tournament experience among the defenders — it will not be an issue for the England management or the team now.
They will absolutely be focusing on the players they have there and getting on with the job. The discussion and debates can be left to the media.