Monday, 20 June 2016
England vs Slovakia
if England had won their first two games at Euro 2016 and were secure in winning Group B then no-one would bat an eyelid at the six changes Roy Hodgson is expected to make to his team to face Slovakia here in St-Etienne - even if, under any circumstance, it would be a lot for one game.
But it would be about managing a squad during a tournament – something that his assistant, Gary Neville, feels strongly about and something that former captain Steven Gerrard wrote about in The Daily Telegraph at the start of the tournament.
England tend to go full throttle from day one, Gerrard contended, and end up running out of gas when the business end of a finals is reached: they have little left in the tank when it comes to the quarter-finals and beyond and go out exhausted.
Pacing yourself is sensible. It is what big teams; big nations and coaches with big resources do. Problem is they also win their groups first to secure more manageable passages into the latter stages of the competition.
England should still have enough to beat Slovakia but it is not a given. It is not a given if Hodgson fielded what would be his strongest XI. Not winning the group is far from a disaster – in fact there is an argument that, actually, finishing second provides a more manageable last-16 tie. But the route to the final after that would be more treacherous.
So England could win Group B and, possibly, face Croatia which would not be good. Or they could finish second and face Iceland. The permutations are complicated, incredibly so, but, after that, it becomes harder for a country that is not a group winner while, even more importantly, failing to win the group would add to the pressure on England and Hodgson.
The momentum gained from the last-gasp victory over Wales would stall. There would be further analysis and discussion while, crucially, Hodgson will still have left doubt as to what his best approach, formation, line-up and tactics are.
There was a strong case for Wayne Rooney not being in the starting line-up at these finals – if he was to play as a striker. Back in midfield he has proved far more effective but just as that is bedding in the captain is rested. Sure he is the oldest player in the squad but, after Slovakia, England do not play until Saturday if they win the group.
It seems Hodgson has one eye on the knock-out stages already but let us hope he has not taken his eye off the ball. England can still come unstuck. The way the results are falling then they should make it into the last 16 come what may – but defeat might lead to finishing third and, then, a tie against Germany or Spain which would be a nightmare scenario.
Hodgson has become the new Tinkerman. When he did not change his team from Russia to Wales it was the first time had named the same line-up for two years. Having stumbled across a winning formula in Lens he is changing it again. It is a calculated risk but a risk nonetheless. Hodgson is leading with his chin on this way and no-one quite knows for sure how his proposed team will play.
Bringing in Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge for Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane is a no-brainer given what they achieved against Wales. Hodgson also wants to start with Jack Wilshere so resting Dele Alli makes sense while rotating the full-backs – with Nathaniel Clyne and Ryan Bertrand coming in for Kyle Walker and Danny Rose is okay but it starts to become a large number of changes. Jordan Henderson for Rooney seems to take it that bit further. Changes are fine. Has Hodgson made too many?