In Review

Iceland 2 England 1: The 'worst result in English history'

Hodgson and his squad should be ashamed, but Iceland deserve praise for showing the meaning of teamwork

Wayne Rooney is England's biggest problem ahead of Euro 2016

03 June

How do you solve a problem like Wayne Rooney?

With Euro 2016 just days away, England put in an insipid display against Portugal at Wembley last night and most observers believe Roy Hodgson's attempts to incorporate the Three Lions' captain into the team are what undermined the performance.

Rooney officially played at the tip of a midfield diamond, but frequently found himself up front, which forced England's two other forwards, Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy, onto the flanks.

"It did not look good," says Jason Burt of the Daily Telegraph. Rooney's presence in the centre "meant two of what turned into a front three were out of position".

This was supposed to be what England had been waiting for, says Barney Ronay in The Guardian - Rooney, Kane and Vardy finally unleashed just before Euro 2016. But "Hodgson's trio of strikers clanked and jangled against one another".

Rooney's presence in the middle was equivalent to "an eager, wet dog's nose plonking itself in an unwelcome lap", adds the journalist, as Vardy and Kane were forced wide.

The skipper inadvertently "disarmed" England's two main strikers, says Phil McNulty of the BBC.

"If they line up together in France, England's opponents will be delighted to see them occupying positions where much of their threat is nullified and their presence marginalised. They are not wingers, never will be and Hodgson is wasting them in those roles."

The Vardy/Rooney/Kane combination has been nicknamed VaRooKa in some quarters, notes Matt Dickinson in The Times, but against Portugal, it "looked as uncomfortable and unappealing as it sounds".

"The England frontline should have been thrilling, even unstoppable", he adds. Instead, it was "deflating" and highlighted manager Hodgson's "preoccupation with defensive back-tracking" as Vardy and Kane busied themselves marking the Portuguese full-backs.

"Something will have to change between now and a week tomorrow, England's big kick-off, against Russia if they are to make the most of five strikers," Dickinson concludes.

The unexpected problems mean "England will now go to France in a state of uncertainty precisely where they should be strong", agrees Barney Ronay of the Guardian.

And it is Rooney who is the problem, he warns: "An undroppable who forces the rest of the parts into odd shapes."

Hodgson sends England to Euro 2016 on a wing and a prayer

01 June

Roy Hodgson, the England manager, once voted for Javier Mascherano ahead of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the Ballon d'Or poll, so it is hard to know what to make of his decision to take five strikers to Euro 2016, says Daniel Taylor of The Guardian.

The decision to pick both Daniel Sturridge and Marcus Rashford alongside Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy in his squad belies his "reputation for conservatism", says Taylor. And his choice of five forwards comes at a time when some countries have gone in the opposite direction. Germany for example have only three 'strikers' in their squad and two of them, Mario Gotze and Leroy Sane, are no more than attacking midfielders.

But Hodgson is clearly making a point about the way England will approach the tournament. "He complained recently that it was always unfair to think of him as a conservative manager and one of the clear messages coming out of England's camp was that a striker-heavy squad was very much his doing, rather than a collaboration between him and his coaching staff."

It is the most adventurous selection since Kevin Keegan also took five strikers to the Euro 2000 tournament and England went out in the group stage. If things go wrong there is every chance that Hodgson, "having been criticised in the past for alleged dreariness", will be lambasted "for showing an adventurous streak", says Taylor.

The England boss "has undoubtedly gambled", says Henry Winter of The Times, and not just with his strikers. Rashford was selected "after 63 minutes of friendly international football against a depleted Australia", he notes, while Hodgson has picked only seven defenders to make room for an extra attacker.

"He has kept the faith with Ross Barkley despite the Everton midfielder's loss of form and confidence," says Winter. "He has backed Jack Wilshere even though the Arsenal midfielder has started only three games since breaking his leg. He has selected youngsters of the verve of Dele Alli."

It may seem bold and daring now, but "it is impossible to escape the reality that England fly to France on 6 June on a wing and a fitness prayer".

Perhaps the most controversial decision was to leave Danny Drinkwater behind, says Paul Hayward of the Daily Telegraph. He calls it "arguably the biggest punt of Hodgson's England reign, because it leaves [Eric] Dier as the only reliable trained sentry for arguably the weakest collection of centre-backs England have dispatched to an international tournament".

But for once England are playing to their strengths, and this is not a squad that will be asked to impersonate another country, he adds.

"The mass cherry-drop of Dier, Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Jamie Vardy and now Marcus Rashford will allow Hodgson to say he is giving the public what they want: boldness and enterprise," says Hayward. "You would forgive his consternation too when people tell him he is being too adventurous, and is neglecting defensive balance."

Sturridge and Rashford make England Euro 2016 squad

31 May

Faced with what seems like a difficult choice between strikers Daniel Sturridge and Marcus Rashford, England manager Roy Hodgson has sprung something of a surprise in his final squad for Euro 2016 by electing to take both forwards and making cuts elsewhere.

Hodgson has selected five strikers, with Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy travelling to France alongside Sturridge and Rashford. This could be seen as a gamble, given England's weaknesses at the back, but is likely to please fans who want the team to play more attacking football.

"Sturridge's inclusion comes after he proved he had recovered fully from his latest calf complaint, which had ruled him out of last Friday's friendly victory over Australia at the Stadium of Light," reports The Guardian

"The inclusion of Rashford is arguably more eye-catching," adds the paper.

Rashford only made his debut for Manchester United in February, when he deputised for Anthony Martial against Danish side FC Midtjylland in the Europa League and scored twice. He also found the net in his Premier League and England debuts and scored the winner in his first Manchester derby.

Newcastle winger Andros Townsend and Leicester midfielder Danny Drinkwater will both miss out on the trip, while Fabian Delph of Manchester City had already been jettisoned after injury.

By discarding Townsend, the "England manager has effectively retained the balance he had always anticipated for his squad with five strikers – plus Raheem Sterling, who can operate centrally if required – eight midfielders and seven defenders", says the Guardian.

With the players now selected, attention has turned to the team which will face Russia in England's opening game of the tournament on 11 June.

Having allocated squad numbers, it appears that Hodgson's first-choice XI features Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy in a front three with James Milner, Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling in midfield. The defence would comprise Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling, with Tottenham Hotspur pair Kyle Walker and Danny Rose either side and Joe Hart in goal, says the Daily Mail.

However, the Daily Telegraph has other ideas and tears up the notion that England will field one to 11 by completely changing the midfield.

The paper believes Lallana "probably won't start against Russia" and Milner and Sterling will be lucky to get the nod. Jack Wilshere, on the other hand, "will be in the starting line-up against Russia" along with Eric Dier, who is "the best option England have in defensive midfield and will play there for the duration of the tournament". Dele Alli could also feature, possibly playing in front of Rooney.

Of the two main strikers, it is Vardy who is most likely to be usurped by Rashford or Sturridge, the paper claims.

England squad:

Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (Man City), Fraser Forster (Southampton), Tom Heaton (Burnley).

Defenders: Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Chris Smalling (Man United), John Stones (Everton), Kyle Walker, Danny Rose (both Spurs), Ryan Bertrand (Southampton), Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool).

Midfielders: Dele Alli, Eric Dier (both Spurs), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal), Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana, James Milner (all Liverpool), Ross Barkley (Everton), Raheem Sterling (Man City).

Strikers: Wayne Rooney (Man United), Harry Kane (Spurs), Jamie Vardy (Leicester City), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Marcus Rashford (Man United).

Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy click, but England defence is in crisis

23 May

England 2 Turkey 1

England began their preparations for Euro 2016 with a 2-1 win over Turkey on Sunday, with goals from Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy. It was an "unexpectedly competitive" friendly at the Etihad in Manchester, says the Daily Telegraph, that highlighted England's strengths and weaknesses.

Kane opened the scoring after just three minutes. When Vardy moved in from the wing to join him for a two-pronged attack after a change of formation in the second half, England looked even more dangerous.

But while England looked good going forward, things were not so positive at the back.

It was a "performance punctuated by plenty of attacking promise but underscored by a pronounced defensive vulnerability", says Louise Taylor of The Guardian.

That is a real concern to Paul Hayward of the Daily Telegraph. "As things stand, all the promise at the front of Roy Hodgson's side is at risk from disorder at the back," he laments.

There are only three specialist centre-backs in Hodgson's squad, he notes – Gary Cahill and John Stones, who played on Sunday, and Chris Smalling, who was sent off during the the FA Cup final.

Hodgson "must be having night sweats at the thought of France, Spain or Germany slicing through his central defence", he adds.

And the problems at the back could have repercussions further forward. Defensive midfielder Eric Dier is not a "one-man Maginot Line", he says, and one of the attacking midfielders may have to be sacrificed to add steel.

"Currently, England are enthused by the idea that they can outscore any opponent. They attack en masse. Hallelujah to that, in theory. It will come to nought however if the central defence is an open road. A block of four, in that area (two centre-backs, two holding midfielders) would provide more insurance," says Hayward.

But while the defence "continues to cause palpitations", England can take heart from the result, says Henry Winter of The Times. The "positives outweighed the negatives", he says. "England defeated strong opponents, fellow finalists at the forthcoming European Championship, who had not lost in 13... The dynamic double act (Kane and Vardy) is surely now inked in to face Russia in Marseilles."


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