England: 6 Flaws for Roy Hodgson to Correct Before Euro 2012 Clash with Sweden
Roy Hodgson's mark was all over England's opening display at Euro 2012. A thoroughly organised, cohesive unit repressed their French adversaries long enough to earn what could prove to be a crucial point in Group D.
The 1-1 draw was certainly a tenacious effort, and thanks to the extra portions of discipline, unity and passion deemed to be visible, it has helped Hodgson win many extra plaudits at home.
Elsewhere, the gritty nature of the performance, disjointed play and slow tempo upset many neutrals—Michael Ballack for example, who was particularly unimpressed—but it was the result that was of primary importance.
Tomorrow however, Hogdson's task becomes slightly more complex.
Victory against Sweden is essential, and the emphasis will now switch to the other end of the field, with the overall performance also guaranteed to be far more scrutinised.
With such a defensive structure, do England have enough creative intricacy to unlock a side from open play, without being exposed themselves?
Here are six issues from Monday's performance for Hodgson to address.
Find a Way to Involve Ashley Young
In this 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 system, Ashley Young is a pivotal ingredient.
Without pressing, England look to be reactive. The intention is to draw in the opponent, win possession and, along with other runners, utilise Young's pace on the counter-attack when the opposition are least organised.
His pace, trickery and elusiveness make him the ideal fit in this role, yet on Monday he was virtually anonymous throughout the game. France's Alou Diarra was assigned to Young and the Frenchman gave a virtuoso performance as the midfield anchor, expertly marshaling him out the game.
Diarra kept such close tabs on the Manchester United man that, by the end of the game, he had only made 12 successful passes—the fewest amount of any starter.
If this scenario is repeated against inferior opposition, England are in trouble. For Roy Hodgson's strategy to be successfully employed, Young must be a prominent factor.
Ensure Welbeck and Young Combine
Equally important to Hodgson's game-plan is the link-up play between club colleagues Danny Welbeck and Ashley Young.
On Monday their partnership was a non-entity. Out of all the passing combinations, the Young to Welbeck connection worked just once in the entire match.
Compared to France—who had Samir Nasri finding Karim Benzema 21 times and Franck Ribery 20 times—without their own front two in sync, England will struggle to fashion out chances.
Be Wiser in Possession
Only Italy, facing the possession-sapping Spain, had less possession than England during the opening round of matches at Euro 2012.
Roy Hodgson's men managed just 35 percent of play, passed 345 times to France's 654, and have had the lowest amount of passes in the opposition's half out of any side in the tournament so far.
The policy of unleashing Ashley Young or Danny Welbeck on the break as England's out-ball seems acceptable enough on paper, but they must be found in space so they can recycle possession.
Too many times the ball was sacrificed via an ambitious long pass, or by playing it to one of the front two in a heavily congested area of the field. France's goal came after a succession of clearances had found one of their players, and England failed to cope with a sustained build up of pressure.
If Hodgson continues adopting this counter-attacking scheme, when in possession, players must be far more protective of the ball and cannier with their distribution.
Shore Up the Right Side of Defence
The few times France really troubled England, and penetrated through the disciplined lines of four, it was down the right flank—certainly the case for the French goal.
Glen Johnson is an attacking full-back, and one of the reasons Roy Hodgson has installed James Milner ahead of him is to give extra security when he surges forward.
In theory this is an astute, yet slightly defensive move, though there were still occasions when both were caught stranded up the pitch and France were able to exploit the space.
Milner actually ended the game as England's top tackler, but there must be far better communication and understanding between this pair as England progress. Hopefully not such an imperative facet to alter for Sweden, it is still something Roy Hodgson must look to develop.
To beat Sweden, England will be looking to dispel several worrying statistics roaming around the internet after Monday's draw.
Against France, Roy Hodgson's men mustered up just one shot on target, and five shots in all—both the fewest amount of any team in the tournament. 1980 was the last time England managed fewer shots in a European Championship game.
Of course, statistics can be misleading. Holland scored their first goal of the tournament after more than 40 attempts, but England will have to make a far greater impression on the Swedish goalkeeper than they did on Hugo Lloris.
Judging by Sweden's performance against Ukraine, and in a few warm-up matches, it seems their defence is slightly out of kilter compared to recent years—which will hopefully aid a more fluent attacking display from England.
Make Better Use of Steven Gerrard
One clear draw-back of this system is the way it shackles Steven Gerrard's creative influence on the team.
England only mustered five chances against France, with Gerrard behind three of them—though all from dead-ball situations.
Not quite the world class performer he once was, the Liverpool captain is still capable of dissecting a defence with an precise through-ball, and England showed few signs of duping the French defence in open play with him stuck further back.
With the incessant movement of Danny Welbeck and Ashley Young to work with, given a more advanced role, Gerrard would surely give another dimension to England's attacking threat, and this has to be considered against opponents England should expect to beat.
As it is, in Hodgson's current system Gerrard is burdened with far greater defensive responsibility, with little flexibility or freedom to roam forward in attack. With these restrictions, his strengths are certainly not going to be as evident during a game.
If England struggle to make an impression against Sweden early on, there has to be an argument for switching James Milner infield to partner Scott Parker, ushering Young over to a flank, and pushing Gerrard up behind Welbeck.
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