England vs. Montenegro: Changes Roy Hodgson Must Consider for Poland
England took a major step towards securing their place at Brazil 2014 with a 4-1 trouncing of Montenegro at Wembley.
After a placid opening period, all five goals came in a frantic second half that saw Roy Hodgson’s uncharacteristically attacking side run riot against their injury-ravaged opponents.
Next up for England is another crunch tie at Wembley, this time against Poland.
Defeat to Ukraine ended any lingering hopes that the Poles have of qualifying for the summer showpiece, but they will prove to be a much sturdier test than the Montenegrin team England steamrollered in their penultimate qualifying game.
With that in mind, there are some changes Hodgson might have to ponder ahead of another must-win game.
Here are a few:
Phil Jones At Right-Back
First of all, a necessary change: Kyle Walker picked up a booking that will see him suspended for the final game.
The two options Hodgson has available within the squad are the Manchester United duo of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. Of the two, it looks as though the latter will be most likely to get the nod.
Whilst both players are naturally centre-backs, they have both been deployed for club and country in the full-back spot. Smalling has operated in that role more recently for Manchester United as of late but has looked increasingly uncomfortable in a wider defensive position.
Against Manchester City in particular, Samir Nasri and Aleksandar Kolarov took him to the cleaners.
Hodgson will go with Jones here, you suspect. The former Blackburn man offers a much more dynamic presence than Smalling, especially going forward, and this will be key in a game where England look likely to see a lot of the ball in advanced attacking areas.
The groans were audible across England when the starting XI was announced on Friday evening and the much-maligned central midfield pairing of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard were reunited once again.
It doesn’t work. It never has done. It never will. Even in this victory for England, this was still so awkwardly evident.
Gerrard looked to sit deep and manage the game from there, whereas Lampard tried to get forward and influence the play higher up.
It should work in principle, but there is a real lack of defensive understanding in those central areas and it can often leave the back four hopelessly exposed—especially with Andros Townsend and Danny Welbeck in wider areas, two men who love to cut inside.
Montenegro couldn’t take advantage of this, but Poland have a bit more ammunition at their disposal. Don’t be surprised to see one of Jack Wilshere or Michael Carrick to replace Welbeck on Tuesday in an attempt to give England a bit more back bone in the middle of the pitch.
Keep Faith In Baines
Along with Andros Townsend, Leighton Baines was arguably England’s best player against Montenegro. There have been calls for the Everton man to usurp Ashley Cole in this England side for a while now and he showed exactly why here with a display bristling with unyielding energy and quality.
His attacking influence far eclipses that of Cole and defensively he has vastly improved as of late. The Everton man’s performance here answered any lingering doubts about whether or not he has the mental strength to perform in a big game for England.
Now Hodgson must keep faith in Baines. There is talk that Cole could be fit for the game against Poland and the England boss might be tempted to draft in the Chelsea man, such is his experience and reliability.
But Hodgson showcased an unfamiliar adventurous streak with his line-up against Montenegro and perhaps that will be to Baines’ advantage.
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