How England Will Line Up Against Poland
Very rarely do England make life easy for themselves in qualification (think David Beckham’s free-kick against Greece in 2001 or the backs-to-the-wall 0-0 draw in Rome in 1997) and once again things will go down to the wire as Roy Hodgson’s men play host to Poland on Tuesday knowing only a win will guarantee their place at next summer’s World Cup.
Poland and England have a storied history in World Cup qualifying. It was way back in 1973 that Poland, in particular their keeper Jan Tomaszewski—who was famously labelled a "clown" by the great Brian Clough—who kept the Three Lions at bay and denied them a place at the 1974 World Cup.
It is Poland again in the closing World Cup qualifier, but on this occasion the visitors have only pride to play for as defeat to Ukraine on Friday ended their hopes of qualification.
England boss Roy Hodgson has told his players to guard against complacency, and they are wise words given the quality in the Polish ranks.
In Robert Lewandowski, Poland have one of Europe’s finest attacking talents to call on, while his Borussia Dortmund teammate Jakub Blaszczykowski is one of those tireless midfield workhorses that are the dream of most managers.
But for all the potential threats in the Polish ranks, it needs to be reinforced that they are fourth in the group and out of contention to qualify. It is fairly clear that they are a team of limited ability.
That is a charge that has often been levelled at England. World Cup also-rans is another. But Hodgson’s men laid the foundations, during trips to Ukraine, Montenegro, Poland, Moldova and San Marino, for the right to qualify.
On Friday, another must-win encounter against Montenegro, England delivered with an attacking fluency often lacking from the Three Lions’ play.
It is for that reason that Hodgson would in all probability have wanted to name an unchanged side. However, Kyle Walker’s second-half caution rules him out of the Poland game.
Walker’s suspension is an area of concern for England, as he carried an attacking threat from right-back, linking well with Andros Townsend. Glen Johnson would have been the obvious option to step in, given he is cut from a similar cloth to Walker, but the Liverpool man is currently sidelined through injury.
Looking at the options available to Hodgson, Manchester United’s Phil Jones is the man that jumps off the page. Jones may not offer the attacking threat of Walker, but he is an extremely solid defensive option to play alongside Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill.
Joe Hart went into the Montenegro game with questions to answer. Hodgson said prior to the game he had no doubts about Hart, and, while the Manchester City keeper failed to secure a clean sheet, he could not be blamed for the goal.
England were rarely tested in defence by Montenegro, that was always likely to be the case, and it allowed Hodgson throw off the shackles and name a bold formation.
It was at times 4-3-3, on other occasions 4-2-4. It was attacking, and dispensing with 4-4-2 appeared to suit Lampard and Steven Gerrard, who dovetailed superbly.
Danny Welbeck was full of attacking intent on the left flank, the in-form Daniel Sturridge was a thorn in the side of the Montenegrins all evening with his movement, while Townsend was a revelation with his direct running and debut international goal (see above).
Wayne Rooney, who bagged the vital opening goal against Montenegro, was the link between midfield and attack—a role he adopted superbly.
Former England international Teddy Sheringham has, in an interview with talkSPORT (via the Mail) floated the idea of playing Gerrard at right-back in place of Walker.
It’s an intriguing idea, and certainly bold, as it would also allow Hodgson to field Jack Wilshere alongside Lampard.
But for as bold as Hodgson was in his selection against Montenegro, expect him to resist the temptation of playing Gerrard at right-back.
England Team to Face Poland
Joe Hart; Phil Jones, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines; Andros Townsend, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Danny Welbeck; Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge
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