Poland vs. England: 5 Things the Three Lions Need to Do to Improve

Tony MabertContributor IOctober 15, 2012

Poland vs. England: 5 Things the Three Lions Need to Do to Improve

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    England travel to Warsaw on Tuesday to face Poland in a World Cup qualifier they really need to win to preserve their status as Group H leaders.

    After the 90 minutes of shooting practice that was their 5-0 win over San Marino last Friday, playing the Euro 2012 co-hosts away will represent a much sterner test.

    Little could be learned from the comfortable victory against European football's worst team at Wembley last week, but there are some themes from their previous games under Roy Hodgson which can be addressed.

    Here are five ways in which England can improve ahead of their trip to the Polish capital.

Take Their Chances

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    Discounting the San Marino turkey shoot, England's last competitive fixture was a 1-1 draw with Ukraine at Wembley in September.

    In that group game against the other Euro 2012 co-hosts, it took a Frank Lampard penalty three minutes from time to grab a share of the points.

    That was after England had double the number of shots Ukraine registered—eight to four—but their two shots-on-target were one fewer than Oleg Blokhin's side.

    Poland have only failed to score twice in their last 14 home games since August 2011 (not including Euro 2012) so England will most likely have to convert at least one effort in order to get a result. 

Find a Settled XI

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    Roy Hodgson can hardly be blamed for chopping and changing during his five-month tenure as England manager. Injuries and suspensions have forced his hand in almost every match over which he has taken charge. Indeed, he is missing Scott Parker, Theo Walcott and Ashley Young from his squad this time around.

    But he does have both Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard available for the first time since their Euro 2012 quarterfinal defeat on penalties to Italy.

    Form and fitness are often more crucial factors for an international manager than a counterpart at club level, but every boss should know the 11 players he can select if everyone were available. 

    Such continuity will benefit England going forward, even if they only have two matches in the next four months.

Build a New Defensive Partnership

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    For better or worse, John Terry's retirement from international football has left a hole in the England defence.

    Terry was always a guaranteed starter under Hodgson, who chose to persist with the Chelsea captain while effectively calling time on Rio Ferdiand's international career.

    Now the England manager has to decide which two out of three outstanding candidates—Joleon Lescott, Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka—he wants to build his new defensive foundation upon with Brazil 2014 in mind.

Link Between Midfield and Attack More Effectively

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    After using two flat banks of four as part of his safety first approach at Euro 2012, Hodgson has tried to develop England's style of play since that tournament. The new preferred system is a 4-2-3-1 formation.

    However, in the Ukraine game, England struggled to find a link between the two holding midfielders and the front-four players, producing a very disjointed performance that was as rigid in its own way as any of the performances in Poland and Ukraine.

    With Rooney and Gerrard back together in the same side that may change. It will have to, as England's over-reliance on wing play will be easily countered by top-class managers and players further down the line.

Use Set Pieces More Effectively

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    Aside from their recent spate of penalties—one in each of the their last three games—England have scored goals as a direct result of set pieces in several of their games under Hodgson.

    There was Leighton Baines' deflected free-kick against Moldova, Phil Jagielka's header from a corner against Italy, Wayne Rooney's tap-in after a goalkeeping error in Ukraine and Joleon Lescott's opener from Steven Gerrard's free-kick against France.

    However, given the aerial prowess and generous average height traditionally associated with English players and inconsistent creativity in open play, free-kicks and corners are certainly an area in which England could have more success.