England passed unscathed through Saturday’s 6-0 win over San Marino, although they are still without Danny Welbeck, their join top-scorer in qualifying, Jack Wilshere, Jordan Henderson and Leighton Baines. Fabian Delph, as he edges closer to match fitness, could start in midfield having come off the bench on Saturday, but it’s up front where the real selection issues lie.
Assuming Hodgson stays with a 4-3-3 (or a 4-3-1-2) – and everything to date has suggested that is the formation he intends to use through to next summer’s Euros, he has to decide whether to start with Jamie Vardy and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Theo Walcott made a case for starting on the right, scoring two goals on Saturday after coming on for his Arsenal team-mate, while Harry Kane scored after replacing Wayne Rooney.
The captain, surely, starts but it’s less clear whether Kane will be asked to operate out of position on the left and the probability is that Raheem Sterling comes in. For Switzerland, Johan Djourou is out with a thigh injury but they suffered no fresh problems in Saturday’s 3-2 win over Slovenia.
England have won seven out of seven in qualifying to become the first side to qualify for next summer’s European Championship but, while that speaks of impressive consistency and there was great spirit shown to fight back away to Slovenia, the group was easy enough that recent results have triggered no great surge of optimism.
Switzerland’s form since Vladimir Petkovic replaced Ottmar Hitzfeld after the World Cup was initially indifferent, but they’ve won four of their last five. On Saturday, Switzerland scored three in the final 10 minutes as they came form 2-0 down to win 3-2, Josip Drmic, a 64th-minute substitute scoring two, and Valentine Stocker, an 80th-minute introduction, getting the other.
England faced Switzerland in their first Euro 2016 qualifier, winning 2-0 in Basel in September. On that occasion, England began with Raheem Sterling behind Welbeck and Rooney, which risked leaving the flanks open to Switzerland’s two very attacking full-backs, Stefan Lichtsteiner and Ricardo Rodriguez. As it turned out, with Rooney and Welbeck pulling wide, they were effectively penned in.
England dominated possession for much of the first half without ever really looking like breaking through, and it was after Switzerland came out and attacked them in the second half that England began to pose a threat, the pace of Welbeck and Sterling on the counter-attack producing both goals. That’s the problem for England: even with Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge injured, their greatest strength remains their pace on the break, and when teams sit deep against them – as a weak qualifying group means almost every opponent has – it neuters their greatest threat.
Since that defeat to England, Petkovic had begun each game with a front two until Saturday’s win over Slovenia, when he went with a 4-2-3-1. It was after he switched to a 4-4-2 with the introduction of Drmic for Blerim Dzemaili that they began to turn the game around, though, so it may be that he returns to the pairing of Drmic and Haris Seferovic. That would then mean Xherdan Shaqiri operating as a number 10 in front of a midfield three.
Given England are likely to use three in midfield, which could lead to a very congested central area and a game without much width. That probably suits Switzerland who are five points clear of Estonia in third with games against San Marino and Estonia to come. A draw plus a win against San Marino would see them through.
The curse of the international manager is the gaps between games. When Hodgson had Wilshere, Henderson and Delph together, he must have thought that would be his starting midfield three right the way through till the Euros, with the possibility of Michel Carrick, if fit and in form, offering a more composed and defensive option to Wilshere. Only Carrick of those four is fully fit and it may be that even he doesn’t start against Switzerland.
There may be need of a more defensive presence than Jonjo Shelvey as the holding player (which isn’t to say there isn’t a role for the Swansea man in one of the other two positions), or if Delph is fit, Hodgson may reason his running with that of Milner offers sufficient protection.
England are 1.72 to win, which might be reasonable in normal circumstances, but they have already qualified against a team that needs a draw, and are without two key forwards. Given Switzerland were seeded at the World Cup and given their results this year, they look a little long. A point is good for them and may suit England: Switzerland +0.5 at 2.10 on the Asian lines looks value.
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