Sweden vs. England: Predicting Roy Hodgson's Starting Line-Up
England have travelled to Kiev for their second Euro 2012 Group D match against Sweden on Friday with a few question marks over their line-up.
Manager Roy Hodgson likes to keep things simple and play his first XI as often as he can. Given how thin his squad is due to several pre-tournament injuries, players left out for "footballing reasons" and Wayne Rooney serving the second match of his two-game suspension, he will be even keener to change things up as little as possible.
Concerns over the fitness of left-back Ashley Cole and midfield duo Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker may force Hodgson's hand, however, as may the fact that Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck were often left completely isolated up front against France as two of the four backs set out to stifle Les Bleus into submission.
A win over a team England have never beaten in a competitive match (drawn five, lost two) would be significantly more advantageous going into the final round of fixtures than a second draw in Poland and Ukraine.
Given the latest news coming out of the England camp in Krakow, here is how Hodgson could line up his side at the Stadium Olimpiyiski on Friday night.
GK: Joe Hart
The England ‘keeper did not have his best game against France.
He let a rather elementary cross slip through his hands early in the match while he has been criticised in some quarters—perhaps harshly—for being beaten at his near post by Manchester City teammate Samir Nasri for France’s equaliser.
Nevertheless, Hart is in no danger of losing his status as England’s No.1 any time soon, especially when the other options in the squad are Robert Green and Jack Butland.
RB: Glen Johnson
With reigning PFA Young Player of the Year Kyle Walker ruled out of the tournament with an injury picked up right at the end of the club season and Micah Richards overlooked, many feared that Glen Johnson keeping his starting berth by default would be a major chink in England’s armour at Euro 2012.
Those worries may yet be proved justified, but the Liverpool full-back had a largely good game against France, keeping Franck Ribery at bay on most of the occasions they went up against each other on the flank.
The defender has been on antibiotics for a toe infection, but the situation is not expected to stop him playing against Sweden.
CB: Joleon Lescott
The Manchester City defender had earned his place in the starting line-up against France, regardless of which other centre-backs were missing from the squad.
He repaid Hodgson’s faith in him with the opening goal in Donetsk, his first senior international strike too.
He complemented John Terry well, and there seems no reason to break up that partnership now.
CB: John Terry
If Hodgson stuck his neck out and selected Terry at the expense of Rio Ferdinand then he is hardly likely to drop him at any point.
Against France, Lescott was the one playing the ball out of defence, but on the odd occasion the Manchester City man was caught in possession or misplaced a pass then Terry was on hand to make a no-nonsense clearance or block.
The Chelsea defender is as good an old-fashioned stopper as you are ever likely to see in this day and age at the top level, and for all his limitations he provides England with a valuable service.
LB: Ashley Cole
The state of Ashley Cole’s ankle has been chief among the injury concerns in the England camp this week, but it is difficult to see him not starting against Sweden.
The Chelsea full-back has been playing with the problem for a while, and routinely misses training for two days after a match in order to give it adequate time to rest.
Cole is currently on 95 England caps. In the unlikely event that England go all the way, the final will potentially be his 100th international appearance.
CM: Scott Parker
Parker was his typical valiant self against France, putting his body on the line to win possession when England didn’t have the ball and squirming to shield it from opponents when he had it.
The Tottenham midfielder was brought off after 78 minutes in Donetsk, reportedly suffering from cramps, but fears that the ankle problem which required pain-killing injections in the build-up to the tournament continue to plague him appear to be unfounded.
CM: Steven Gerrard
The England captain has never put in a performance more measured or disciplined as the one he put in against France.
Gerrard managed to rein in his usual dynamism and propensity for the long-range “Hollywood” ball and worked hard in sticking to his more defensive brief.
The 32-year-old’s powers of recovery may not be quite as considerable as they once were, but having missed much of the early part of the season through injury he should be fine to play for as long as England are in the tournament.
RM: Theo Walcott
This is where Hodgson may look to change things up for his second competitive game in charge, by making the right wing the one which he will permit to break ranks from the rigid midfield on occasion.
The manager raised eyebrows by starting Arsenal’s 18-year-old winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain against France, which contributed to Walcott’s first appearance at a major finals coming from the bench in second-half stoppage time.
But with Sweden boasting attacking full-back Martin Olsson at left-back, Hodgson may decide that Walcott’s pace will be a greater asset in nullifying the Blackburn player’s threat rather than James Milner’s strength.
LM: Stewart Downing
If Hodgson decides that the right side is to be the side designated for pace and penetration, then the left must be the one to have a more workmanlike brief.
Milner is able and willing, but his sub-par appearance on the left of midfield against USA two years ago proved he is vulnerable on his wrong foot.
England fans will groan should they see Downing’s name on the team sheet, but as a left-footer with tactical discipline he is right up Hodgson’s street, and he will help blunt the threat of Sebastian Larsson down that side.
And if you think Hodgson wouldn't dare making such an unpopular move, remember that he brought Jordan Henderson on against France, so anything is possible.
ACM: Ashley Young
Since the last World Cup, Young has perhaps been the biggest success story for the England team. He went from being in the large group of wingers on the fringe of the squad to being a regular in the side.
Following Wayne Rooney’s suspension for the first two group games, he seemed the natural replacement to fill the vacancy in the No.10 position.
He did so against France, but failed to have anything like the influence that was hoped and expected of him. However, given England’s negative spoiling tactics in that match, it is little wonder Young and Danny Welbeck were cut off from the play for so much of the game.
England will surely be more enterprising against Sweden, meaning that Young should be able to pull the strings much more and show just what he is capable of.
CF: Danny Welbeck
There is logic to suggest that Hodgson may well plump for Andy Carroll as the lone striker against Sweden.
He may want to fully test his options before Rooney’s return to the side in order to make a clear decision on who will be the better strike partner for him, and the Liverpool man’s stature would greater combat the tall centre-back pairing of Andreas Granqvist and Olof Mellberg.
However, given Welbeck’s exemplary work rate against France and his understanding with Young from a season playing together at Manchester United, it is difficult to see him losing his place.