Roy Hodgson’s European dilemma is not about the upcoming referendum, but how can he fit the Premier League Golden Boot winner, a league-winning striker, the PFA Young Player of the Year and Three Lions captain in to one balanced and effective XI.
There is only one formation that can truly accommodate all four of these star players; the 4-4-2 diamond. Not the naff way that it was used against Portugal in a warm-up game, where Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane spent half the match on the wings, but the diamond that could see England trounce a Welsh side that is as well organised as a Sam Allardyce team and offers a smattering of star quality. England simply must play Kane and Vardy centrally together, Alli in the No.10 role and Rooney as one of two midfielders offering support to Dier. This is the way the diamond can work and will give Hodgson the balance he so desperately craves.
With Raheem Sterling as the only natural winger in the England squad, any system that commands some width is inadequate. Andros Townsend should’ve been taken to France if Hodgson want to play a 4-2-3-1, so, without the Newcastle man, a narrow system is clearly the best way for the Three Lions to approach their game with Wales. Play to their own strengths and make sure that they can have two of Europe’s most in-form strikers playing in their best positions.
Meanwhile, Rooney is doing a decent job as a central midfield player and, whilst his merit in the team is questionable, Hodgson is nailed on to start his captain in every remaining game of the tournament. Therefore Rooney must be slotted into the side somewhere and the presence of Alli, despite an underwhelming game against Russia, is a must considering his goal threat and link-up play with both Dier and Kane.
Wales will likely play a narrow 5-3-1-1 system as they did against Slovakia, but this does not mean England must try and stretch them onto the wings. England must believe that playing to their own strengths will bring them success and, with the talent they have, it will do. Kyle Walker and the enterprising Danny Rose are more than adept at providing width to a narrow midfield just as they did for Tottenham Hotspur during the campaign just gone. The worries around Rose and Walker’s position in the team certainly are not about their ability to shuttle up and down the flanks or to attack.
England’s shaky defence is the main worry for Hodgson and the best way to answer this is to make sure they are going to have constant goal threats. It is ridiculous to have a squad including three of Europe’s best finishers and only play one at a time, particularly when the defence looks like leaking a goal each time they face an attack. Dier will provide more than adequate shielding of the centre-backs, whilst forcing the opposition wide by packing the centre of the park with a diamond will allow Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill to deal with crosses rather than central runners, one would hope.
A dilemma for Hodgson it may be, but it is clear that this is the only way for England to go from here. When the one natural winger in the squad is in such poor form, it seems to be repetitive and foolish to persevere with a system so dependent on the flanks. As good as Adam Lallana was the other evening, his position would naturally be in jeopardy. Perhaps, just perhaps, the Liverpool technician could play the role of the third midfielder with Rooney and Alli, quite the risk though, mind.
Wales’ centre-backs will not want to be facing Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane in central positions on Thursday afternoon. In fact, it’s hard to imagine anything less pleasant for a centre-back at the moment. As Roy should know, always do what your opponents will not want.