England's Euro 2016 qualifying campaign warm-up fixture against Norway ended in a suspect 1-0 victory on Wednesday night.
Fans and journalists maintained a rather negative view over the 90-minute exhibition at Wembley, suggesting the team had underperformed against a poor opponent.
Roy Hodgson, though, remained defiant in his praise for a clean sheet and an efficient performance. He rebuffed the statistic of two shots on target, per ESPN, in the post-match press conference.
Back to the 4-4-2
As we previewed before the match, Hodgson reverted to a 4-4-2 against Norway with Jordan Henderson and Jack Wilshere sharing central midfield.
It meant Raheem Sterling played inside off the left (not true left, but indented), Wayne Rooney partnered Daniel Sturridge up front and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain provided width on the right.
On paper it looked pretty asinine, with many fearing a return to the dark ages, but in practice it was quick-moving and positive for the first 20 minutes.
There's an unfair stigma attached to the 4-4-2 in that it's negative and foolhardy, but that's only the case in certain circumstances. England's players played at a great pace to begin with, and it looked like the players were enjoying a lease of life post-Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.
Dominating play (63-37 percent possession, per WhoScored.com) wasn't hard against a very defensive Norway set out in a low block, but how will this formation look against the 4-2-3-1 of Switzerland on Monday?
Positives and Negatives
It's become clear that the successes of Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool have had a direct impact on the English national team, with the Reds core of Henderson, Sterling and Sturridge key to anything good offensively from now on.
Sturridge's link-up play with Sterling was absolutely phenomenal, with the former peeling to the right to create space and firing passes into the path of the latter. Sturridge will always look to peel wide right when possible and bring the full-back forward, creating pockets to play passes into.
Sterling's on the same wavelength, and before he won England the decisive penalty, he was close to latching onto two sublime passes from his colleague and managed to setup a one-two shot on goal.
A budding partnership such as this is a joy to see, but on the other end of the spectrum, we were left wondering exactly what Oxlade-Chamberlain really does anymore.
B/R's Jerrad Peters named him a "loser" post-match for doing "next to nothing," and he's spot on: "The Ox" gave the ball away continually, failed to make ground on the right and halted attacks by reducing speed.
Well hello Mr. Diamond, how are you?
Just as we'd prayed for in the build-up, a flurry of substitutions on the 69-minute mark signaled a move to the 4-4-2 diamond midfield—akin to the one Rodgers uses at Liverpool.
Fabian Delph came on to play left-central midfield, Danny Welbeck replaced Rooney up front and James Milner came on to play right-central midfield.
The game had gone a little stale before the switch, but the system change sparked a superb last 20 minutes from England, who were only let down by questionable decision-making in the final third—chiefly by Sturridge, who got a little bit selfish as the game wore on.
With Sterling moved inside to tip of the diamond the Three Lions looked brilliant, and Delph worked hard in a box-to-box role, pressing, harrying and making clever runs. Welbeck and Sturridge drifted out to provide width and allow Sterling a path centrally, balancing the formation out very well.
The formation looked effective, despite the odd collation of players, and it should give Hodgson an interesting decision ahead of the tie in Basel.
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