England Euro 2012: 10 Things Roy Hodgson Has Done Right as England Coach so Far
If you told an England fan that England would arrive at the quarterfinals of Euro 2012 unbeaten and having finished first place in Group D, chances are he would’ve snapped your hand off (in the figurative sense, of course).
Such are (or were) the expectations for the England national team these days.
It’s been a strange few weeks. When Roy Hodgson was announced as England manager, the news was met with a mixed reaction, at best. More so when it appeared that Harry Redknapp wasn’t even approached for the job.
So far, Hodgson has presided over a five-game unbeaten run for the Three Lions, and will now face Italy in the quarterfinals this Sunday.
Never mind that the whispers of a successful tournament are growing louder: Let’s look back at what Roy Hodgson has done right in his brief tenure as England coach. As usual, feel free to have your say in the comments below.
Giving the Captain’s Armband to Steven Gerrard
Surely there is no doubt over who has been England’s best player of the tournament thus far.
It has to Steven Gerrard, finally appointed captain after having lost out to the captain’s armband too many times under preceding managers.
And Hodgson’s decision to make Gerrard his skipper has paid off, as Gerrard has repaid that faith and put in three fantastic performances to rubbish those claims that he is past his best.
With three assists in three games, Gerrard has been directly responsible for all of England’s seven points, and he has also shrugged off those accusations that he isn’t positionally disciplined enough to play in central midfield.
Playing a Deep Defensive Line
That England have gone the defence-first approach is no secret. After all, it’s a Hodgson staple.
The deep defensive line that Hodgson has adapted for England is fast becoming an England hallmark, as the sea of white shirts that greets every incoming attack surely makes for considerable frustration for their opponents.
England set out to concede as few goals as possible, and they don’t aspire to look pretty while doing it.
Graft is key, and was epitomized by Scott Parker’s crawling efforts to put in a tackle against Ukraine on Tuesday night.
Not spoiled for pace in the center of defence? No matter: Play Joleon Lescott and John Terry deep, let them soak up the opposition’s attacks, and count on Joe Hart to man the England goal.
Drilling Defensive Discipline into the Squad
The aforementioned sea of white shirts doesn’t come by without extensive training.
A simple look at the shape of the England team whenever they don’t have the ball sees the players lined up in a very obvious 4-4-2 formation.
Any attacking permutations that see an England player out of place is immediately addressed by another player filling in for the empty slot.
Hodgson is famous for drilling the importance of defensive discipline into his players.
Seems like it’s working so far.
Emphasizing Defensive Work on the Wings
Another feature of the Hodgson 4-4-2 is the amount of defensive work done from the wings, and to a certain extent, up front.
Danny Welbeck will have won plenty of admirers with his selfless running and harassing off the ball this summer, while Wayne Rooney is known for his work rate as a forward.
But the key to maintaining a sense of psychological control over proceedings is the amount of work that the midfielders do to ensure that the opposition doesn’t get to keep the ball too often.
Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker have been wonderful ambassadors of this system.
So too James Milner and Ashley Young, who have tracked back and put in their defensive shift out on the wings.
Using Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain When Necessary
There’s no way we can discuss England’s midfield without bringing in its most unpredictable element: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
It’s fair to say that his inclusion in the tournament squad of 23 saw its fair share of headlines, but the Arsenal prodigy has taken them on without any fuss.
After featuring in both of England’s pre-tournament friendlies, Oxlade-Chamberlain was handed a first competitive start against heavy-hitters France, and responded with a fearless display.
His cameo appearances against Sweden and Ukraine show that he has been doing well enough in training to impress Hodgson to take a chance on an inexperienced youngster.
In tournament football, where short-term success is understandably the most important objective, Hodgson has shown that he has his eye firmly on the long term by not being afraid to take a chance on this new star.
Using Theo Walcott as an Impact Substitute
An unfortunate victim of Oxlade-Chamberlain’s rise has been Arsenal colleague Theo Walcott, whose place in the pecking order seemed to have been confirmed following the former’s inclusion from the start against France.
But, as Walcott’s game-changing substitute appearance against Sweden showed, he has all the elements to make a brilliant impact play for England.
And at this moment in time, that makes him one of England’s most important players.
Walcott’s notorious inconsistency at club level, along with his relative lack of physicality and defensive stamina, has perhaps hurt his chances of making Hodgson’s first team, but his searing pace has the potential to destroy any defence.
Hodgson deserves credit for recognizing Walcott’s strengths and weaknesses, and playing him to the right effect.
Working on Set Pieces and Crossing
Out of the five goals England have scored in the Euros thus far, three of them have come from headers on the back of crosses put in by Steven Gerrard. Another has come from a low cross from Theo Walcott.
Which means only one has come from a non-crossing/set-piece situation.
That ratio is eye-catching.
The first two goals that England have scored (against France and the opener against Sweden) were textbook examples of the advantages that a direct-attacking approach brings to a team.
With Steven Gerrard manning the corners and free kicks, England have looked threatening from set pieces as well.
Having good headers of the ball like Joleon Lescott, Andy Carroll and John Terry will only aid this approach, and explains the relative emphasis on this form of attack.
Grinding out Results
And so all the above factors have more or less contributed to yet another Hodgson staple: a workman-like approach to winning games.
Contrary to the at-times swashbuckling Tottenham Hotspur team that Harry Redknapp furnished during his time at White Hart Lane, Roy Hodgson’s teams have always been known for their pragmatic approach, and England is no different.
As expected, there hasn’t been a glut of goals since Hodgson took over.
But the most important thing will always be results.
Hodgson’s England are unbeaten in five games.
Managing Player Expectations
There can be few statements that are so obvious, but Joleon Lescott’s suggestion that Roy Hodgson is a better communicator than predecessor Fabio Capello simply because Hodgson’s first language is English has reflected the way his players have taken to him.
Hodgson is also not shy with getting his players involved, as his constant inclusion of captain Steven Gerrard in his answers in England press conferences has suggested.
Surely this can only be a good thing for the England camp.
In the buildup to the Euros and during the tournament itself, Hodgson has managed the expectations of his players, and will no doubt have spelled out his tactical and personnel preferences.
Managing Public Expectations
Last but not least, Hodgson has also managed the expectations of the public and the media well.
Perhaps, in a perverse way, he was aided by the loss of several experienced players, including Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry, before a ball was even kicked in anger.
That helped form the media and public perception that this was to be one of the least-talented England squads to ever have traveled to an international tournament.
But, through a combination of his preferred defensive style, a streak of pragmatic, low-scoring results, and interviews displaying typical Hodgson-like humility, Roy Hodgson has succeeded in keeping his countrymen’s expectations low so far.
Keep succeeding, though, and he’ll see that this, as ever, is always the likeliest to change of all.
Of course, Roy Hodgson has still only been in charge of five games at the England helm, and presuming England don’t win the Euros this summer, he will need to deliver results on a more consistent basis, perhaps in a qualifying campaign, to show that he really is the right man for the job.
But in his first few weeks as England coach, he has shown why the English FA always considered him as first choice.
What do you think about Hodgson’s approach so far? Let us know in the comments below.
For more extensive coverage on Euro 2012, please check out my Bleacher Report writer’s profile. If you’re interested in Liverpool opinions and match reactions, please also subscribe to The Red Armchair.