So under incredible media and public scrutiny and with no opportunity to watch the players play together in either training or a friendly, Roy Hodgson has announced his England squad for Euro 2012.
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (Man City), Rob Green (West Ham), John Ruddy (Norwich)
Defenders: Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Phil Jones (Man United), John Terry (Chelsea), Joleon Lescott (Man City), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Leighton Baines (Everton)
Midfielders: Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Stewart Downing (Liverpool), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Gareth Barry (Man City), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Scott Parker (Tottenham), Ashley Young (Man United), James Milner (Man City)
Forwards: Wayne Rooney (Man United), Danny Welbeck (Man United), Andy Carroll (Liverpool), Jermain Defoe (Tottenham)
Great for Ruddy after a brilliant season full of top draw saves and good performances. He’s an English goalkeeper who is first choice and playing in the Premier League which puts him in a small group. When two of the other players on that list have “retired” from international football the group gets even small so it’s no surprise to see him included probably at the expense of Scott Carson who has had his chance.
In Joe Hart we have a genuine world class player and hopefully he has a fantastic tournament, but if something were to happen to him I’d be terrified about the prospect of Robert Green stepping back into the firing line.
Rio Ferdinand has been omitted for “footballing reasons” according to Hodgson. Quite what those reasons are he didn’t want to elaborate and I can’t imagine that story is going to hold up. The questions in the press conference were largely about trying to find a non-footballing story and I think that trend will continue until more about what has been said and the way events unfolded comes to light.
Terry is in the squad and how Hodgson handles him and how he handles himself will certainly be under scrutiny, aside from that he’s been in pretty bad form lately which isn’t exactly the best preparation going into a major tournament.
In the absence of Kyle Walker through injury, Glenn Johnson seems likely to start at right back so lets hope he does better than at the 2010 world cup where watching him was torturous.
Phil Jones makes the cut according to Hodgson at the expense of Micah Richards, probably because of his greater versatility. No other surprises.
The shape and balance of Hodgson’s midfield is the most intriguing part of the squad. From his selection it looks as though England will play a five-man midfield and Hodgson will certainly be looking for goals from his midfield.
The absence of Michael Carrick is hugely disappointing as he’s good defensively and has a brilliant range of passing that really suits international football. His failure to even make the reserve list points to perhaps a hidden issue that effected his inclusion.
Daniel Sturridge is on the reserve list but probably failed to make the grade as either a winger or a forward and was caught somewhere in between.
The selection of Stuart Downing is certainly brave based on this seasons form. It seems that Hodgson hasn’t paid too much attention to form and has instead perhaps looked at Downing’s previous record for England and Aston Villa which certainly make for much better reading. I think it’s more likely he’ll be used from the right than wide left and with his left foot offers something different in this area. Adam Johnson has been overlooked, which could be due to his lack of first team starts but I think probably has more to do with his work-rate and tactical discipline which is something Hodgson will be looking for.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is the other surprising inclusion, he’s certainly different to Lennon, who is perhaps too similar to Walcott. Ox can play from the left, cutting inside on his right foot like Ashley Young, but is also happy to take up positions in a more central area or play a similar role to Walcott on the right. He’ll have no fear and that’s always a dangerous prospect for opposition defenders.
Otherwise it’s the familiar faces and Steven Gerrard has been made England captain.
With Wayne Rooney banned for the first two games this is the most worrying part of the England side. Collectively the squad is short of international goals. Welbeck and Carroll both lack experience and aren’t natural goal-scorers, but Carroll has the power to out-muscle defenders and Welback has a very good record at keeping possession for the team so the burden of goal scoring will certainly not be their only role in the side.
Their mobility and movement is probably what got them in ahead of Crouch, despite his goal record which is a good indication of why he was overlooked and why Holt suffered the same fate. Although Holt’s movement is good and his goal record this season has been excellent his ability to keep possession for the team is relatively poor and I think that’s probably one of the reasons he’s not been included. I think the impact Carroll made in the F.A Cup final against Chelsea probably swung it for him, which isn’t fair on Holt who has been far more consistent this season but his lack of previous England experience certainly won’t have helped which sadly no amount of good performances for Norwich would have changed.
Effectively the number of goals scored doesn’t seem to have been a factor in selection, which to some extent I can understand as I think Carroll and Welbeck are both capable of finishing chances well at international level despite not having scored as many goals as Holt or Crouch this season.
Jermain Defoe hasn’t started much for Spurs this season but has often come off the bench to score and that’s exactly the role I think Hodgson will want to use him in. If England need a goal, a switch to 4-4-2 and the introduction of Defoe wouldn’t be at all surprising, his previous England experience and goals will count in his favour.
Darren Bent misses out which I can only assume is for fitness reasons, had he stayed fit I imagine he would have taken a seat on the plane. Zamora was being talked up because of his connection to Hodgson, but he doesn’t offer the movement or link play of Welbeck, the power of Carroll or the goals of Defoe and frankly I’d have had him well behind Holt in the pecking order.
Shape and Tactics:
England are likely to line up in a 4-2-3-1 system with Gerrard playing off of a main striker like he often does for Liverpool. The squad is packed full of players that work hard defensively. Barry and Parker can offer plenty of protection to the back line, with the shape of the team I think we’ll sit deep and try and hit teams on the break. Walcott offers a great outlet from the right, his pace and runs into the inside forwards channel are hard to track and could open up space for Gerrard to move into and deliver crosses into the box. Ashley Young will look to cut inside and link up with the front man and carries a goal threat.
Will Hodgson find space for Lampard? Having made Gerrard the captain it’s unlikely he’ll make the same mistake as Capello and try to squeeze him into the side in a wide role. To me the balance of the side doesn’t look right with both Lampard and Gerrard in the team, I’d much rather have Carrick and Parker sat behind Gerrard if I was picking the side and wanted to play that way.
Defensively this season Lampard hasn’t been great and doesn’t make many tackles, blocks or interceptions per game. His strength is his key passes and goals contribution, something which the England squad are certainly lacking, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see Lampard introduced at the expense of Barry or Parker if we need a goal. Of course Lampard’s ability to find a killer pass is far more effective if you’ve got Drogba upfront to take the chances he creates, so with our lack of a top draw striker for the first two games Lampard’s contribution might be more from set-pieces where England should be incredibly strong.
I think James Milner has made the squad because he can play in just about every midfield role, his professionalism and versatility are to his credit and if England are in ahead in games it wouldn’t surprise me to see him come on and block up a channel defensively in a wide area, replacing either Young or Walcott.
I think he’ll go with Welbeck to start because of his pace and movement. Carroll can have an impact off the bench if you want to be more direct but Welbeck has better link up play and is better at keeping the ball than Carroll. He also offers more pace on the break to run into the channels and although he doesn’t have Carroll’s strength he’s no ‘shrinking violet’ and can certainly ‘put himself about’ to coin some horrible clichés.
At the back I think he’ll probably opt for the Chelsea contingent and Glenn Johnson. Phil Jones offers a good option defensively on the right but Johnson is certainly the more experienced full-back. Jones could also be used to inject some energy into midfield if we were looking to close ranks and see a game out. I actually think Lescott deserves a place in the side based on his performances for Man City and England but given that Terry will almost certainly start, it perhaps makes more sense to pair him with his club team mate Cahill than try to forge a new partnership.
So what are our chances?
Overall to me this is a squad with a lot of options midfield options and versatility. Creative flair, technical and passing ability are certainly not on a world class level but defensive discipline should make the team hard to play against and break down and we’ll pose a serious threat from set-pieces. International football is often incredibly tight. England were a goalkeeping mistake away from winning their World Cup group and from there who knows what might have happened.
As always the squad lacks technically but that was always going to be the case. Against the French I don’t expect us to see a lot of the ball but I think we can frustrate them and cause them problems on the break. The real worry is the lack of a genuine world class goal scorer which we’ve not had since Michael Owen. Against Sweden it is more likely us that will become frustrated especially if we’ve lost to France in our opening game.
The difference between success and failure is fought on incredibly small margins. Hodgson has not taken many risks with his squad and I don’t think his team will take many risks either. I doubt they are going to be particularly enthralling to watch which won’t matter if results go their way but will only add to the criticism should results go against them.
If we’re going to do well I think we’re going to need to get lucky and I don’t think an England team has got any luck since about 1966 when the ball definitely (maybe) crossed the line. So perhaps we’re due a bit of luck, perhaps when things are going against us, all our luck will arrive at once and Downing will find that cross which finds Carroll which finds the net. As a fan, all I can do is hope for the best but based on past experience I’m finding it hard to get my hopes up.