Roy Hodgson, the new England manager, was an underwhelming and impromptu choice by the FA. The wise old English coach is highly respected in the continent, and has been a member of both FIFA and UEFA technical study groups. The man is a deep thinker of the game, with massive amounts of experience in England and abroad.
In my opinion, Hodgson is a good choice for the job, considering his experience and nous, and achievements towering over those of his competitors.
However, the question remains, what will Hodgson's England side look like?
He has been described by many as a system-first manager. He is obsessed with two banks of four, to the extent to which he sometimes instructed his players to be tied together in banks of four when going to the cinema.
Hodgson sides have been described as functional, defensive and organised, which would make him seem like a reactive Sam Allardyce-style tactician.
In truth, like most managers who are painted in this style, Hodgson can be best described as pragmatic, to some degree. For any manager to survive the macro-tactical changes that took place during the 36 years of Hodgson's managerial career.
Hodgson managed successfully in the 1990s. He played with an Inter Milan side that had several star players, like Ivan Zamorano and Paul Ince, and reached a World Cup second round with Switzerland.
Throughout his career with Switzerland, Hodgson used a back five, as was the custom at the time. He was also effective with a 4-2-3-1, where he utilized his playmaker, Ciriaco Sforza, to maximum effect.
Hodgson changed with the times in the 2000s as well, reverting to his choice of a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 during his time at Fulham. Here again, he let the players dictate the style. Bobby Zamora was used in front of the attack as a holdup man for midfielders to run on and.
For much of Fulham’s Europa League final run, Zoltan Gera was used behind him in a “False 10” capacity (i.e. playing in the playmaking positions, but primarily getting forward to support Zamora, rather than dictating the play himself).
He also used Simon Davies and Damien Duff as two inverted wingers, cutting inside in attack, but keeping shape in defense. Clint Dempsey seemed unsuitable to the Hodgson way, at least when he desired better link play from his midfielders.
It is important to note that although Hodgson has evolved over time. He stays true to the original principles instituted by him and Bobby Houghton in Sweden: pressing, zonal marking, counterattacking with direct passes, deep and disciplined defending.
This is why Hodgson has preferred deep-lying passers to connect the attack and defence of his side, rather than playmakers who make the side more compact by playing their web of passes higher up.
Players like Murphy at Fulham, and now Youssuf Mulumbu at West Bromwich United, allow him to break effectively without actually having to risk giving his defence less time to be exploited.
At West Bromwich United, Hodgson has had broadly the same approach as Fulham, except his West Brom focus on using the crossing talents of Chris Brunt (6 assists) and James Morrison (2), as well as using his deep-lying playmaker (Mulumbu) in a more direct offensive capacity (4 assists), rather than lumping the ball up to the strikers.
Also, his 4-4-2 at West Brom involves Peter Odemwingie and Shane Long up front together. The Nigerian striker encouraged was to make more runs from wide positions dropping off the Irishman Long (although considered a poacher, Long’s link up play is quite decent).
He also expects his wingers to make a defensive contribution, like Duff and Davies at Fulham.
Hodgson has experimented with putting Odemwingie on the wing, as well, to provide a more varied threat. He has incorporated this into a successful 4-2-3-1 formation that saw West Bromwich Albion defeat Wolves 5-1, Sunderland 4-0 and Chelsea 1-0.
The system allows much more of a compact side, with a playmaker in James Morrison (who is a winger by trade, and so constantly drifts wide to make space for Odemwingie to run inside, making him a central winger), and a defensively solid winger in Jerome Thomas.
Scharner and Mulumbu protect the defence, and provide two different kinds of threats, Scharner with his driving runs, and Mulumbu with his passing.
Hodgson has also played a 4-1-4-1, with Mulumbu as the anchor, and Keith Andrews and Graham Dorrans in the center of midfield. This formation was similar to the one England employed against Wales.
This featured Dorrans in the Wilshere role, the midfield creator, and Andrews in the Lampard role, the passer, making late runs into the box, a bit like Paul Scharner. Dorrans often had to cover on the left for Odemwingie’s forward runs.
What team would Hodgson pick for England?
Hodgson is used to having one or two flair players in his sides, whom he surrounds with workmanlike players to get a good foundation for a team ethic. Going by the trend above shown by his work at Fulham and West Brom, his recent successes, we can estimate his choice side.
Hodgson defences are notoriously well-drilled and not liable to positional inadequacies. The full-backs also tend to not to go on marauding runs. However, Hodgson will probably consider that England is a top international setup, and allow for full-backs to do so in his setup.
He will likely go for the unfussy Lescott-Jagielka pairing, who were so well disciplined against Spain, and are not likely to have overinflated ego’s , as well as not being receptive to Hodgson’s idea’s.
The full-back positions will likely be filled by Ashley Cole, still one of the best full-backs in the world game, he marshaled the defence brilliantly against Spain, as well as the Chelsea defence against Barcelona. The right-back position will be filled by Gen Johnson, another old head who might be able to calm his forward tendencies.
The midfield setup for Hodgson is easy to predict, as he has indicate his preference of a passer-tackler double pivot. Factoring in his preference for experience in those positions, Scott Parker and Michael Carrick will be chosen, Parker for his unquestionable determination, and Carrick for passing technique.
The attacking midfielders are slightly harder to predict. It appears that Hodgson will want James Milner to play the role of a defensive winger, who comes inside in an attacking sense, but who can also be a defensive workhorse. He might combine those skills with the crossing skills of Ashley Young, who can play the role that both Chris Brunt and Damien Duff did.
The central striker is an easy choice, because of the Zamora parallel. Danny Welbeck has had an excellent season for Manchester United, and can link up well with Ashley Young, as well as work with Rooney when he returns. He'll also provide excellent link-up play, holding the ball and coming deep.
Until then, the attacking midfield position is up for grabs. Hodgson can go for a diving runner like Gerrard or Lampard or a playmaker in Joe Cole (who's enjoying a renaissance at Lille) and Cleverley, and even Oxlade Chamberlain. It is impossible to determine which strategy he would go for, as he has used either in the past.