England’s Euro 2012 campaign got off to a successful start on Tuesday evening, as they collected a deserved point against a flamboyant French side. Roy Hodgson’s men showed the kind of defensive discipline and shape many expected to see, whilst portraying a worrying lack of attacking ideas and composure in possession that was also anticipated.
Hodgson’s task this tournament has been to balance out his much-admired team shape and discipline with an attacking impetus. It is fair to say England restricted what was a very talented France attacking trio in Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema admirably – and should be given credit for doing so – but they also failed to exploit what was at times a disjointed French side and an altogether frail looking back four.
One question that was answered though was whether Danny Welbeck, given his inexperience at this level, would be able to cope with leading the line on his own. The Manchester United man was assured, composed and mature in his hold-up play, linked up well when England attacked in numbers and cleverly found space between France’s defence and midfield on numerous occasions. At 21, and with just five caps prior to the game, Welbeck showed remarkable confidence and maturity and may well make that position his own for the foreseeable future, especially given his rapport with Wayne Rooney.
Unfortunately for England on Tuesday, Rooney’s standby, Ashley Young, had his quietest and most ineffective game in an England shirt for some time. Early signs were promising in the game, as Young, Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain showed good interplay in the French half, but the Manchester United winger faded and Oxlade-Chamberlain struggled to impact the game as an attacking force as the match went on. The trio did inject some flair and pace at times though, with Oxlade-Chamberlain and Welbeck in particular promisingly unfazed by the occasion and happy to try make things happen.
However, tonight’s game with Sweden is an entirely different proposition for Hodgson’s men. It will be the Scandinavians who try to soak up pressure and hit England on the counter, instead of the role reversal for England’s last game. Therefore, the onus will be on England to break down their opposition who will put bodies behind the ball. It is a situation England have struggled with in the past – with more gifted players in the side too – so it will be interesting to see how they cope.
If the side is unchanged, the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Milner, Ashley Cole, Glen Johnson and perhaps Steven Gerrard will be given more license to get forward, resulting in a more fluid and open style of play. Hodgson could even opt to bring in Theo Walcott as one of the wide-men to offer greater attacking threat, but overall, the former West Brom boss will be expected to be generally more expansive – arguably something he’s not entirely comfortable with.
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