When Roy Hodgson started with five Liverpool players in his line-up for England’s international friendly against Denmark on Wednesday night, a barrage of attacking threat from kick-off would not have been an unworldly expectation.
It has become a trademark of Liverpool games to race out from the traps and hit teams with early, intense pressure. The Reds have scored more first-half goals than any other Premier League side this campaign.
Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge have been key to that attacking threat for Liverpool this season, with Steven Gerrard sat deep, but ultimately being point one in offensive build-ups.
How worrying for England, then, that Liverpool’s attack, lacking only the South American flair of Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho could have been made to look so underwhelming as the Three Lions eventually ground to a 1-0 win against the Danes.
The problem boils down to tactics, and the way England were set up from the start. Despite watching Brendan Rodgers’ side demolish teams on several occasions this season, Hodgson’s conservative values undermined the Northern Irishman’s.
Instead, in true predictable Hodgson style, Croydon’s favourite son decided to pivot his attack around Wayne Rooney.
That’s the same Rooney that has scored 12 goals in all competitions for Manchester United this season, 11 less than Sturridge for Liverpool.
Rooney was left to play his little-boy-lost role in the middle, pushing Sturridge wide and disintegrating a system that has seen Liverpool fire their way to the Premier League’s top goalscorers this season.
Even when Danny Welbeck replaced Rooney on the hour mark, such is Hodgson’s delight in playing static formations that Welbeck merely took up Rooney’s central role.
It wasn’t until eight minutes from time when Sturridge was allowed to move centrally to leap and head home England’s winner.
Of course, Hodgson was delighted with the result—narrowly beating a team on home soil who didn’t even qualify for this year’s World Cup.
After the game, instead of opening up to the tactical ineptness shown by England on Wednesday night, Hodgson opted to shout random and unrelated loose footballing cliches in his post-match press conference, as quoted by Dominic Fifield of The Guardian, as if he were an embarrassing Dad screaming at his son’s five-a-side game:
"This was an important game tonight, and it was important we put in a good performance. I wanted a level of energy, with players running back when they lost the ball, making tackles from the wrong side, not being afraid to make mistakes knowing, with their pace, they can recover."
England’s lack of cohesion and threat in the game probably shone further light on what a fantastic job Rodgers is doing at Anfield.
In 90 minutes, Hodgson showed exactly what Liverpool’s players can’t achieve when played in the wrong system.
Before the World Cup gets underway, the 66-year-old could do well to take a seat at Anfield again and watch how Rodgers shapes those players who make up nearly half of his team.
Here’s a hint—Rooney is not a replacement for Suarez.