Roy Division: The Big Dilemmas Facing Hodgson


Injuries: Nursing and Cursing

It all started with Jack Wilshere, Chris Smalling and Darren Bent, whose lingering problems outstayed their welcome. But England’s injury curse has since spread like wild fire. Messrs Ruddy, Walker, Barry and Lampard have all been ruled out in the past two weeks, and now John Terry (hamstring), Gary Cahill (jaw), and Theo Walcott (ankle and hamstring) are all touch and go to make the plane.

Hodgson is expected to risk Walcott no matter what, but has 72 hours for updates on Terry, before the squad flies out to Poland on Wednesday afternoon. News has filtered through that Cahill’s cheek is fractured, and his list of potential replacements would've include Micah Richards, but the Manchester City man’s reluctance to go on the standby list has counted against him. Liverpool’s bit-part defender Martin Kelly is poised for a recall, but the 'footballing reasons' behind Rio Ferdinand's omission need to be questioned. However, if Terry is also ruled out, the door could yet be opened for an unlikely return of the Manchester United man

Style Choices

England were unconvincing with a static 4-4-2 at the 2010 World Cup, and Fabio Capello opted for a progressive 4-3-3 in qualifying. However Hodgson has reverted to a setup more akin 4-4-2 in his two practice games. Meanwhile, Assistant Coach Gary Neville is known to be an advocate of setting the team up differently depending on the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition. But, considering the physical Norwegians were the ideal dress rehearsal for Sweden, and then the technical Belgians were so for the French, Hodgson puzzlingly set the side up similarly each time. This suggests he’s likely to set his stall out the identically regardless of opposition, but no doubt he’ll have Neville in his ear this week arguing for the contrary. Food for thought.

But Rome wasn’t built in a day and Admiral Hodgson has had less than 10 training sessions with his cohort. So, with little time to prepare, chances are he’ll stick with the rigidity and solidarity of safety by the default of 4-4-2, the only differential being Ashley Young’s roving making it more of a 4-4-1-1.

Ministry Of Defence

In front of the irrepressible Joe Hart will be consistent full backs Cole and Johnson, who too are guaranteed of their places, and will offer as much going forward as they do at the back. But it is at centre half that question marks have arisen, and here that depth is now and genuine issue. Cahill, exceptional in Chelsea’s late season march to honours, could now be replaced by Joleon Lescott, who has been superb of late. Everton’s Phil Jagielka has gone from standby to potential starter, but all depends on the aforementioned injury to Chelsea’s captain, Terry.

Midfield Matters

Scott Parker will start as the deepest midfielder. James Milner, at right midfield, has shown his trademark industry in recent matches, but hasn’t been tried in the centre alongside Parker, a move that could release Gerrard to play further forward. This is a ploy Hodgson will no doubt be considering after noting a lack of flexibility in the recent showings. Another problem is that without Lampard and/or Barry, the strength in depth of the midfield is severely harmed. Jordan Henderson is hardly banging on the door with verve, so the versatile Phil Jones could come into the reckoning.

Out wide Theo Walcott could start on the right if Milner were to move inside. On the left, yesterday Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looked exciting in glimpses, but probably hasn’t done enough to start against France. That honour, inexplicably, could now be bestowed upon Stewart Downing. Big decision to make there, Roy. 

The Lone Ranger

There’s little doubt Hodgson will play with one out and out striker against France, plus Ashley Young in behind. This will likely be the case until Wayne Rooney is eligible for game three. But who will fill the lone striker role? Danny Welbeck’s delicious goal yesterday has jet-propelled him into pole position, but Hodgson must weigh up his merits against those of Andy Carroll, diligent against Norway last week, who does hold the ball up better, but would do so without offering a threat in behind the French defence. This decision will impact the entire philsiophy of the team, as much of the emphasis for the midfield’s attention is dependent on the strengths of the centre forward. Elsewhere, Jermaine Defoe, despite being England’s chief goal threat, is destined to be an impact sub, and that only.