Sunday, May 20, 2012

2012 England EURO preview - How will Roy line up?

With the 2012 EUROS around the corner, Alistair Magowan of BBC Sport writes a great piece analyzing Roy Hodgson's tactical preferences, as well as potential lineups for England at the European Championships next month.

"Roy is a pure coach," Gallacher said. "You only get a week to train with the national team, so it is all about organisation, getting players thinking about the system you want to play. 

"I personally think it will discipline the players a bit more and make them a bit more mentally stronger. You only have four or five days to work with players to get your points across, but the players will understand him. He makes things very simple, but he does make you think."

A reliance on a specific system may fill the shortage in confidence suffered by the players that puzzled Capello during his reign.

But the biggest question, with Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp in mind and a track record which includes fallow periods at Inter Milan and Liverpool, is whether Hodgson is a galvaniser of good players rather than a motivator of top-level ones?

His successes at club level in Sweden, the Swiss and Finland national teams, and more recently with Fulham and West Brom, point to a manager who can create a framework where players know their jobs and can complete them with distinction.

When more liberty or creativity is needed by players who perform best free from the shackles, however, will the 64-year-old allow them that privilege?

Gallacher says in his experience, Hodgson never curbed attacking players' instincts. But former Swiss and Liverpool defender Stephane Henchoz, who also played under Hodgson with Switzerland, says there is a question mark over his handling of big-name players.

"He was manager at Inter Milan and at Liverpool, two big clubs, and he didn't have massive success," the 37-year-old said. "But one thing I'm sure about is he knows the English mentality, which is very important. As a foreign manager they don't really know how to deal with English players, you have to know the English mentality and so for Roy it's a big plus."

Much of the answer will also boil down to what England need and who is available as they approach Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine this summer.

Capello qualified for the 2010 World Cup and the European Championship with a group of players, who were largely disciplined and, once he figured out a system which was less rigid, swift on the counter attack. Now it is hoped that Hodgson can do a similar job in moulding a collection of promising talents with some of the more senior figures in the squad.

My prediction is that based on the players that Hodgson has at his disposal, that he will prefer to play a 4-2-3-1 to start the tournament.  Very few teams will play in this tournament without a crowded midfield to offer tactical flexibility, and I would expect to see Lampard and potentially Barry sitting in front of the back four.  Lampard has been an attacking midfielder for most of his career, but his ability to evolve from a #10 into a #8 this past season for Chelsea shows his versatility and flexibility.  That will allow the opportunity to play both Lampard and Gerrard on the field together - at least until Rooney comes back for the third match.

When Rooney comes back into the team, the challenge will be whether he will be deployed as a #9 in front of Gerrard, or his traditional role as a withdrawn striker off a central striker - as he plays with Manchester United (perhaps in a 4-4-1-1).  I like the idea of using combinations of players that know how to play together and have developed partnerships, so having Welbeck and Rooney along with Ashley Young would create a pretty potent attacking unit.  Whether Gerrard, Walcott, or someone else joins up with them on the right, this could be a good option for England. A lot will also depend on how England has fared in those first two matches. I am not a fan of trying to play Gerrard as a winger, but also know that his influence in the team might be cemented in those first two matches, and might be hard to take him off to make way for a lineup or alignment switch.  Conventional wisdom probably will see Rooney playing as the #9, which will unfortunately either leave him up high on his own, or see him drop back really deep or wide left - neither of those scenarios would put England in a desired shape.

Along the same lines of having that level of cohesion in attack, my prediction is that Hodgson will go with a Chelsea nucleus in his back line - using a partnership of Cahill and Terry together, with Ashley Cole on the left.  I am not a fan of Terry, but know that he wouldn't have been selected if they didn't see him in the team.  Expect to see those three play with either Glen Johnson or Phil Jones at right back, with Joe Hart as the #1.

Managing a national side is much different than a domestic club - less time to prepare, coach and teach.  My guess is that with Hodgson's experience managing internationally, that he will go for a group and alignment that will create the highest level of comfort for his players to put them in the best possible position to succeed.

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