Roy Hodgson will take charge of his first game as England manager on Saturday as the Three Lions start their preparation for the European Championships. England travel to Norway for their first warm up game before hosting Belgium at Wembley next weekend.
It is a chance for Hodgson to experiment with his squad for the first time before they board the plane to Poland and Ukraine in June. Hodgson still has a number of key decisions to make before England’s first game against France. What formation will we adopt? Who will play in the heart of the midfield? Will Lampard and Gerrard play alongside each other despite them failing to gel in the past? Who will replace Rooney upfront whilst the striker is suspended? Do we play 5 in midfield with 1 up top allowing Lampard and Gerrard to both start or stick to a standard 4 4 2 formation?
With less than 20 days to go before England’s first game it is clear Hodgson has a number of dilemmas and very little time to solve them, but for me it is quite simple. I would start the first two games with Andy Carroll spear heading our attack whilst adopting a 4 2 3 1 formation allowing Gerrard and Lampard to both start.
I would hand a debut to Oxlade-Chamberlain despite the youngster lacking international experience he has been a breath of fresh air whilst appearing for Arsenal. And for this reason I would start him in the group stages on the right hand side of midfield in a more advanced position. The youngster’s energy could prove pivotal in England’s success.
On the opposite wing I would select Ashley Young. The winger started hitting form at the end of the season having returned from injury for Manchester United. He has bags of pace and is capable of providing good quality service from wide positions. His ability to cut in on to his favoured right foot could cause huge problems for opposing defenders and the winger is more than capable of winning the Three Lions a cheeky penalty if the pressure is on.
Behind Carroll I would play Gerrard. The newly appointed England captain has still to prove his worth for England in what could be his final major tournament. The midfielder is more than capable of causing a nuisance of himself within the opposition defence and would act as great support for Carroll upfront. Playing Gerrard just behind the target man allows him to drop in to the heart of midfield if required, making it harder for the opposition to dominate the middle of the park.
This then leaves Lampard and Parker to play alongside each other in the two holding roles. Parker’s no nonsense attitude alongside Lampard’s precise passing has the makings to be a fantastic midfield pairing. The two complement each other well with Parker doing the dirty work and Lampard tidying up after him. Frank has become familiar to this role over the last season especially during the latter stages of Chelsea’s victorious Champions League campaign. Therefore it is a brilliant role for the Chelsea talisman which also enables Gerrard to be given a free role within the team. But for the tactics to work Parker will have to be disciplined as he always is.
As stated earlier I would controversially start with Andy Carroll. The Liverpool striker has experienced a rise in form towards the latter end of the season despite a poor start to his first full Liverpool campaign. Carroll has proven he is capable of scoring big gaols when provided with the service. The target man will be a handful for most centre halves with his strength and dynamic aerial ability.
With Carroll up front it also offers England an alternative playing style which may not be to everyone’s fancy, but if performed correctly can be very effective. Route one is not everyone’s cup of tea but with Carroll as a target man he has the ability to bring other players in to play. Therefore instead of attempting to play “attractive” football I would play to our strengths, in particular the strengths of Carroll, and adopt a more direct approach.
I would also try and emulate the tactics Chelsea used against Bayern and Barcelona in the Champions League. It may not be attractive or easy on the eye but as Chelsea proved it can be effective. But for this to work we have to be defensively astute, Terry, if selected, must be at his best and lead from the back despite not wearing the captain’s armband. The former England captain must also form a quick relationship with his defensive partner whether it is Jones, Lescott or Cahill most probably the latter.
Roy has had very little time to stamp his mark on the England team, therefore if we fail to deliver the goods Roy will have an easy scapegoat as he did not have enough time to prepare, but personally I believe England will surpass all expectations and surprise a few people along the way.