Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ross Barkley Can Spark England vs. Uruguay

Glenn HoddleFeatured ColumnistJune 17, 2014

England national soccer team player Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, center, who is recovering from a knee injury, takes part in a drill beside Chris Smalling, left, during a squad training session for the 2014 soccer World Cup at the Urca military base in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, June 16, 2014.  (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Matt Dunham/Associated Press

The upside of this World Cup tournament is the profusion of goals. Fabulous. Normally World Cups are a bit sterile to start with and warm up over a period of time. Not this one.

Virtually all the teams have been going for the win, and wow, that has created a real festival of football already. Some of the big international teams are going to have to be wary of the likes of Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Costa Rica.

The games have been very technical; every team has gone for it from the first minute to the last, and that must be great for the neutral. But when it's your country, you might want it to be a bit tighter, a bit more tactical.

So, while everyone is focused on Wayne Rooney and how best to accommodate him in the England front line, there is a danger of losing sight of the fact that England conceded two goals against Italy—and that there are some glaring problems at the back.

One of them is the fact that, when Rooney plays on the left, England are vulnerable down the flank.

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

Roy Hodgson has to come up with a formula to accommodate Rooney, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge to ensure England get the best from all three. But the England manager also needs to find a route behind defences, and also needs to find a formation that gives the defence more protection.

And now that Uruguay is a "must-win" game, virtually a knock-out match, there is every reason to throw Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain into the equation, if not from the start then coming off the bench, along with Ross Barkley.

Sterling and Sturridge did enough to justify that they keep their places, and so too did Rooney.

Once again there is endless debate about whether Rooney should be axed—and once again the answer is no. Rooney made a goal and almost scored one against Italy, but he needs to be played in the centre of the attack to give him the chance he craves to score in the World Cup finals in his third tournament.

He certainly came close enough against the Italians despite being played on the left, where he is far from comfortable. He had a great chance to grab a point for England. When you look at the goalkeeper's movement, he bought it, and was going the wrong way, but Rooney was just wide of placing his shot inside the near post.

Rooney had deceived the keeper and you could see what he was trying to do; but I do feel having done all the good work manoeuvring himself into the right position and sending the keeper the wrong way, he does have to hit the target.

Sterling was on fire at the time with his pace and guile, and if I were Roy I would keep him and Sturridge in the team to take on Uruguay. 

I feel for the England manager with the cruel injury to Oxlade-Chamberlain. He could have made a big difference against Italy, and I am sure he will now figure against Uruguay, probably from the bench, as it would be too risky from the start.

Bruno Magalhaes/Associated Press

The same scenario will apply to Luis Suarez. I noticed how confident my ITV team-mate Gus Poyet is being about Suarez facing England, but it would make sense to bring him on during the game than risk him from the start.

Before the tournament in France in 1998, I lost Jamie Redknapp and Ian Wright, and Darren Anderton was the only ‘iffy’ player who needed to prove his fitness, as well as Paul Gascoigne, of course.

We all the know the circumstances of Gazza’s injury in the warm-up game just before I had to select my final squad.

I told Gazza to take it easy, play one or two touches to release the ball quickly so he wasn’t caught in any tackles. ButGazza being Gazzahe got excited, forgot his instructions, and started a dribble which I just knew was going to come to grief. And indeed a great hulk of a defender clattered him. From that instant I knew Gazza wasn’t going to recover in time for selection and that he would have been a huge risk carrying his race to get fit into the tournament.

As an England manager it is a horrible feeling to be in when a key player like Oxlade-Chamberlain is injured, and of course it is horrible for the boy as well. It's the worst kind of preparation, as it disrupts the team planning, particularly as the Arsenal player was doing so well and proving to his manager he could be trusted if given a starting place in his World Cup team.

He showed great pace, picking up the ball from deep and covering plenty of ground. He gets you up the pitch, which is so important, and one of his great strengths. He could play as one of three in midfield or out wide, and he is capable of goals or assists.

The one thing that Roy didn't want, he got with Oxlade-Chamberlain. When you get to this stage you just don't need the headache of losing a player. I think the way he was playing against Ecuador, he might have been playing himself into the team. 

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

I was also very impressed with Ross Barkley. He has a really bright future, developing under Roberto Martinez at Everton. To have players like Barkley and Adam Lallana is exciting for England right now. I am sure Barkey is going to be a major force for England, and the key to England's international future is developing youngsters like him.

With so many attacking options at Roy’s disposal—although I would have personally taken Andy Carroll instead of Rickie Lambert, to give England a completely different option—it is not impossible for England to win their next two games. But four or six points will do it, and that is perfectly possible given the encouraging signs against Italy.

I am sure for all Roy’s positives he has taken from the Italy match, he will recognise where things need to be worked on, particularly the team's movement and getting behind the defence, with full-backs overlapping and providing crosses.

It was not a disastrous defeat in the sense that there were so many positives for Roy to be taken from that game that there is genuine hope for the next two games against Uruguay and Costa Rica.

Of course the group has been turned on its head with the shock win by Costa Rica over Uruguay. If Italy beat Costa Rica, that will make the group very interesting for England and certainly within their capabilities with so many good signs coming out of the Italy game.

Look at how many times did England work their keeper—it was far more than Italy worked Joe Hart.

The problem is that, although we knew it was going to be tough against Italy, there was a lot of hope going into the game, and once again expectancy levels suddenly rose.

A defeat is still a defeat when it comes to England and how the nation will be feeling about losing to Italy.

On balance we should be optimistic based on the way we had a go at it against the Italians. That makes me feel confident we will be alright against Uruguay.

England had five in midfield but it was spread across the pitch and it really did need one of those five midfield players to pin Andrea Pirlo down—Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson or Rooney—but no one did.

Pirlo should have been denied that space, even if it meant somebody else was afforded more, because they wouldn’t have hurt England the way that Pirlo did.

Pirlo should not have been allowed to run the show the way that he did. He is their talisman, everything goes through him, and he will hurt you if you allow him to get on the ball.

Ian Wright asked me if I thought England should have man-marked Pirlo, but it's more about how you set up your midfield players to ensure he is denied the space and is pressured when on the ball.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JUNE 16: (L-R) Danny Welbeck, Glen Johnson, Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling of England warm up during a training session at the Urca military base (Forte de Urca) training ground at on June 16, 2014 in Rio de
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

It surprised me the way the Italian coach played Pirlo. You would have expected Pirlo to play deeper. His position made sure that England were outnumbered by the way they played so narrow, and that provided all the space Pirlo needed.

Pirlo swapped shirts with Stevie Gerrard at the end, but that was the closest the England captain or any of the England midfield got to him!

I do believe England can overcome Uruguay with or without Suarez, who won’t be in the best of shape even if he starts or more likely comes off the bench on Thursday in a tie that is now a "knock-out" game.

England are already in the knock-out stages as having lost the opening game against Italy, they have to beat Uruguay. And Uruguay have to beat England to survive as they too lost their opening game, but in a real shock defeat by Costa Rica.

Four points might be enough but England cannot take that chance, so the next two games are "must-win."

Yet, England are at their best like that, when their backs are up against the wall, and when they know precisely what they have got to do.

Glenn Hoddle is part of the star-studded ITV team for the World Cup, while he is also a leading pundit with Sky.


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