Saturday, 11 June 2016

Euro 2016 - England Squad Preview

By Shane Thomas

The England men''s team begin their Euro 2016 campaign against Russia later today, so it's just as well that I've managed to get this preview of Roy Hodgson's squad done before kick-off.


Joe Hart (Manchester City):

One of the most reliable members of this England team, Hart sometimes has a mistake in him (it's not easy to find a keeper who doesn't these days) but can be indomitable at times, and will be needed to operate at his best if England are to have a good showing in France. His propensity to try and psyche out the respective kicker when facing penalties may prove useful in the (inevitable) event of a penalty shoot-out.

Fraser Forster (Southampton):

Firmly established as back-up to Hart, England probably have a solid number 2 keeper for the first time since the 2002 World Cup. Forster can be inconsistent, but - as Arsenal fans will attest - he can be an inspirational shot-stopper (in fact, it may not be the worst idea for Hodgson to go all Louis Van Gaal, and bring Forster off the bench if England end up in a dreaded penalty shoot-out)

Tom Heaton (Burnley):

While Heaton's inclusion is in part reflective of the weakness in England's goalkeeping cupboard, if called upon, I wouldn't expect him to be a total liability. He was one of Burnley's better performers in their last Premier League season, and had a another good campaign as his club got promoted to the top flight at the first attempt. Don't be surprised if this isn't Heaton's last major tournament.


Kyle Walker (Tottenham):

I've often thought Walker a very flaky footballer, but he's one - of quite a few - that has blossomed under the tutelage of Tottenham manager, Mauricio Pochettino. Attacking from full-back, he can operate as an additional winger (and we shouldn't sleep on his long-range shooting). While a better one vs one defender than he was a few years ago, his eagerness to supplement the attack can leave his teammates vulnerable. The likelihood of a third of the starting XI being made up of Spurs players means Walker will probably start the tournament ahead of Nathaniel Clyne.

Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool):

Another player who has improved after being managed by a foreign coach (Jurgen Klopp), Clyne is in the common mould of full-backs who is stronger attacking than defending. He has made a discernible improvement on his crossing, and one suspects his delivery from the right flank may be of greater assistance to Harry Kane than the distribution from Walker. However, I've long worried that Clyne is player who can lose concentration at crucial moments, and while the same could be said of Walker, the Tottenham man has a greater forward threat. Clyne may still have some part to play - and he's also not shy to chance his arm from long-range - but he may have to await a couple of mediocre displays from Walker until he does.

Danny Rose (Tottenham):

Bar Danny Drinkwater - who was unlucky not to make the England squad - Rose was the most improved player in the Premier League last season. Given the injury to Ryan Bertrand, Rose is a cert to start Euro 2016 as England's left-back. Ever facet of his game has been enriched, which I think is founded on better fitness - a key area of Pochettino's regime. Rose now has the energy to cover the entire left flank, and given England's paucity of wide men, his role will be crucial in hurting opposition defences. Like Walker, there are concerns around his defensive solidity.

Ryan Bertrand (Southampton):

It's seemingly Bertrand's destiny to remain forever underrated. Not outstanding at any one area of the game, but also has no glaring weakness. Given England's lopsided squad, and worries around their defence, I would have inked Bertrand in to start at left-back. However, he is currently nursing an injury, and will probably only feature in the event of injury, suspension, or poor form befalling Danny Rose.

Chris Smalling (Manchester United):

One could argue he is England's most important player at these championships. They stand little chance of impressing if they continue to leak goals, and Smalling is his nation's best defender. One of the few successes at Manchester United under Louis Van Gaal, Smalling will be needed to replicate his strong Premier League form for England, if not surpass it. The main worry is that he may be needed to lead this defence, and Smalling has always struck me more as a good lieutenant, rather than a reliable general.

Gary Cahill (Chelsea):

May become a lodestar for English football disappointment if this tournament pans out the way many think it might. It would be unfair to pain Cahill as a liability, and he has shown impressive displays in the past (he's also a useful attacking option from set-pieces), but Cahill's weaknesses are often highlighted a when he lacks an experienced player alongside him. Cahill is the England's vice-captain, and notional leader of the backline, but one fears he could struggle to keep control of his own game, let alone concern himself with how his teammates are playing. His lack of pace is a huge worry, and things could get ugly if Gareth Bale gets to run at him in the England/Wales clash[1].

John Stones (Everton):

So far, Stones is unrealised potential. He still has time on his side, but one suspects Roy Hodgson doesn't, so Stones may have to content himself with learning from the bench, rather than on the pitch. His comfort in possession, and ability to start attacking moves is worth risking him from the start, but I can understand why others disagree, as Stones nonchalance can become downright jejune. He hasn't yet learned the correct balance between risk and reward in a position than doesn't tend to reward risk.


Eric Dier (Tottenham):

Dier will probably be England's firefighter in France. While the full-backs will be keen to join the attack, Dier has a huge responsibility to ensure than Smalling, Cahill, and/or Stones aren't left exposed on the counter. It's a lot to ask of any player, particularly one who's only started playing as a defensive midfielder last year, in only his first international tournament, If Dier is expected to be England's sole sentry, he may get overwhelmed. But if given sufficient assistance in midfield, Dier has it in him to be a star of the competition.

Dele Alli (Tottenham):

A thrilling and dynamic force in midfield, it should give England fans cause to be excited and cautious that Alli bears a huge resemblance to a young Steven Gerrard. A ripe fruit from the English footballing tree brings with it both its merits and demerits, and at this early stage in his career to get the best out of Alli, Hodgson must give him as much freedom as possible, while ensuring he links with Harry Kane as much as possible. Given the personnel he has at his disposal, if there is one player Hodgson should make special allowances for, it's Alli. Let's just hope he can keep that temper of his in check.

Jack Wilshere (Arsenal):

Speaking of skilled English midfield players with a temper...

One of the more controversial selections for the squad. A broken leg ensured that I nearly played as much for Arsenal this season as Wilshere did, but he's long been a favourite of Hodgson's, playing an important part in their qualification for the Euros, albeit much of it coming in an unfamiliar deep lying midfield role. While his inclusion is a risk, it's one worth taking as Wilshere gives something that no other player in the 23 has. Even as an impact substitute, he is by far the most technically accomplished of England's midfield options.

Jordan Henderson (Liverpool):

Henderson is fortunate to make the trip across the Channel, as I would have selected Danny Drinkwater ahead of the Liverpool captain. However, he could prove useful if he can display the form he showed under Brendan Rodgers in the 2013/14 season. At his best, Henderson is an old-fashioned box-to-box midfielder, even though he has to add a greater goal threat to fulfil this promise. More perspiration than inspiration, Henderson is likely to do little more than make up the numbers.

James Milner (Liverpool):

A poor display in the final preparation match against Portugal may have put paid to his hopes of featuring prominently in the England team, but I would be extremely tempted to try and find a space for Milner in the starting XI. I feel Eric Dier will need a second body alongside him to shield the defence, and Milner is the best available option, full of energy and possessing a natural selflessness. He's also the best user of a set-piece in the squad[2].

Raheem Sterling (Manchester City):

He had a wretched second-half to the season with City, yet Sterling is one of the few gamebreakers Hodgson possesses, and is one of the few options who can play in a wide position. Unless Wilshere has a storming Euros, England lack the guile to open up teams through the middle, and as such, will need to be able to hurt teams from the flanks. Sterling may not be the most form player in the squad, but he could be one of the most important.

Adam Lallana (Liverpool):

Hear me out, but I think Lallana could be England's secret weapon. Hodgson has a side full of enthusiam and energy, if lacking in nous. The squad have been working on the "five second fury" rule for a couple of years, and there is no person better to instigate this than Lallana. He's impressed me since Jurgen Klopp took over at Liverpool. Watch how Liverpool put their gegenpress into play. It's often started by Lallana. He sounds the proverbial klaxon for his teammates to spring into action. It's a role that shouldn't be underestimated. While Lallana doesn't catch the eye, and can be inconsistent with his end product, his ability to spark the rest of the team into life could prove invaluable.

Ross Barkley (Everton):

Another player who can consider himself fortunate to be included. However, unlike Henderson, one can understand why Hodgson has placed faith in Barkley. He possesses bags of devil to slice through the best organised rearguard. But he spent much of the past season drowning in the maelstrom of Roberto Martinez's final season at Everton. Barkley's made the squad based on what he might do, rather than anything one expects him to do. One suspects that until he adds a bit of nous to his sometimes coruscating instincts, he'll remain a work in progress.


Harry Kane (Tottenham):

Going far in international tournaments is a lot easier when you have a striker who catches fire, and Kane is the most flammable player England have. He possesses an instinct for being the right place so often it's scary (it's not luck when it keeps happening). The two worries are his shoot-on-sight policy that would make even Cristiano Ronaldo say, "You should think about passing once in a while", and the baffling decision for him to take indirect set-pieces. Regardless, if Hodgson has a plan to get the best out of Kane, then the semi-finals aren't out of the question.

Wayne Rooney (Manchester United):

One expects the captain's legacy as an England player will be determined over the next few weeks. While it would be myopic to not appreciate the qualities Rooney brings off-the-pitch: that he has the strong respect of the team and coaching staff; how his presence is good for overall morale; and how he is still widely admired by opposition teams, these are only subsidiary virtues that should dovetail with an ability to fit into a framework that helps your team on the pitch. Otherwise, Rooney's little more than a high profile mascot. There seems a refusal to countenance an England team without Rooney, yet he's fast becoming less of a talisman, and more of a millstone.

Jamie Vardy (Leicester):

While I'm not keen to see Vardy picked for England (and am dreading the thought of him turning out for Arsenal), what he brings to the (sigh) party isn't tough to discern. Although one wonders if the players exist around the squad to unleash his strengths[3]. If Vardy is to play a key role in France, it has to be as a centre forward. Vardy's relentless, high-octane, combative (and tempestuous) style looks ideally suited to the role of impact sub. If England find themselves wading through treacle, Vardy can be England's supercharger.

Marcus Rashford (Manchester United):

Has a player ever made an impact so fast than Marcus Rashford? An unknown in February, England's secret weapon in June. It's tough to prognosticate his possible impact on the tournament, as how could anyone prognosticate how his career's gone so far? He could just as easily end up as England's top scorer, as not play a single minute in France. What makes Rashford so promising is that he has the hallmark of all good strikers, which is he doesn't hesitate when given a chance, often shooting early before the goalkeeper has a chance to set himself. If he was a Doctor Who villain, he'd be one of the Weeping Angels. Defences would be wise not to blink if Rashford takes to the field.

Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool):

As dangerous as he is brittle. When fit and in form, Sturridge is England's most lethal forward option, a firework of a striker. What may cost him a starting place, is not only the warranted doubt around his ability to play multiple games in a short space of time without getting injured, but his natural style is to drift out of matches, only coming alive once he has the goal in his sights - his performance in May's Europa League final being a case in point. International matches are often tight affairs, and can only be cracked open by someone who has a bit of devil (see Payet; Dimitri). There's few players Hodgson can deploy that are more devilish than Sturridge.

This won't be the team that starts against Russia, but if the squad had a clean bill of health, here would be my ideal England XI.

(4-3-3; Hart; Walker; Smalling; Stones; Bertrand; Dier; Milner; Alli; Lallana; Kane; Sterling)

[1] - Especially as Cahill may end up needing pain-killing injections to get through the tournament, as he's suffering a hip problem.

[2] - Interesting to note that this is the first time in a generation since England have lacked a strong set-piece threat. I honestly can't think as to when this was last the case. Euro 88, maybe?

[3] - Another reason I would have selected Drinkwater.

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