England Euro 2012 Focus – Hodgson’s dilemmas

England head into their opening Euro 2012 match against France later today with optimism low but curiosity high. It is easy to guess eight of Roy Hodgson’s starting XI, but the remaining three spots are less clear cut and will go a long way to reveal how the former Fulham boss is approaching his first competitive outing as England Head Coach.

Hodgson’s first big decision will be to choose between Danny Welbeck and Andy Carroll for the lone striker role. Both impressed during the last two friendly matches when given their opportunity and this decision could shape England’s game-plan. Going with the more cultured Welbeck would lend to a swifter counter-attacking forward line with pace and guile but the Manchester United man is inexperienced and expecting him to lead the line by himself – with Ashley Young in the hole behind him – is a big ask.

Carroll, meanwhile, offers a more direct route and despite having similar inexperience to Welbeck, his brute force and nature means he will at the very least put himself about. But he is a risk also, as Welbeck is the more consistent option and more accomplished finisher while Carroll has proved to be a bit of a wild-card at Liverpool this season – proving to be a match-winner on occasions and decidedly clumsy on others.

Hodgson’s other big decision comes in the shape of his wide-men. The 64-year-old wants to make England solid, organised and hard to beat, so the likes of Stuart Downing and James Milner would fit this mould, willing to get up and down their flank, helping their full-back and trying to offer attacking influence. But neither is exactly a blessed with pace or flair, or goals for that matter, and if both did start (which was rumoured to be the case on Saturday), England would be short of genuine attacking threat, relying a great deal on just Young and Carroll/Welbeck.

England’s other options out wide are Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – two quick wingers who perhaps aren’t as accustomed to the defending side of things and will not be as reliable and consistent in their play – but could offer defining moments and goalscoring opportunities. Oxlade-Chamberlain in particular would be a gutsy call but he could be the injection of fearlessness and audacity England have been missing. Walcott can be a risk too given his patchy form, but the Arsenal winger is such a threat when on song and has proved to be an excellent finisher at times.

It will say an awful lot about Hodgson’s approach given what kind of wide-men he goes with. Given France’s uncertainties in defence and brilliance in attack, England’s best form of defence may well be attack, but that would be out of character to what Hodgson has set out so far.

England don’t have the kind of attacking players a Spain, Germany or France have, and being blessed with a strong defence means that is a sensible place to build on. But spending 90 minutes without the ball and soaking up pressure is a dangerous game, especially against a talented French forward line, so attacking outlets need to balance the team out. Whether Hodgson will chance his hand is another matter.

See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on England v France

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