Roy Hodgson has made quite a few mistakes during the start of this Euro 2016 tournament, but rotating his side against Slovakia wasn’t one of them
Bringing in Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge was the right move, but not playing them as a pair up front was the wrong one.
Vardy was rarely involved and Sturridge had to roam from his position on the right to get on the ball, often dropping into his own half to receive it.
Elsewhere, at right back Nathaniel Clyne was slightly better than Kyle Walker, despite the furore around the latter who’s been good but not deserving of the stand-out player tag he’s been given.
Being heavily involved in a game isn’t the same as being good in it, and though Walker has enjoyed a lot of freedom down the right, he’s produced little of note.
Clyne suffered similarly at times but in the main was more productive than the Tottenham man, finishing the game against Slovakia with 7 key passes, while Walker only has 3 from 2 games.
Clyne also comes out on top in other areas, boasting a pass accuracy of 95% compared with Walker’s 80%, and also has a better cross accuracy.
On the other side, it’s fair to say that Danny Rose performed to a higher standard than Ryan Bertrand, but as with Clyne and Walker the gap between the two players isn’t huge.
Where those complaining about rotation might have a case, is in midfield.
Jordan Henderson and Jack Wilshere came in for Wayne Rooney and Dele Ali, and at times looked off the pace.
But were they really much worse than the pair they replaced?
Henderson created two of the best chances against Slovakia with an incisive through-ball to Clyne which led to a good chance for Lallana, and a chipped cross to Ali at the far post from which the 20-year-old should have scored.
On the other hand, Rooney seems to get plaudits for merely completing a pass. He’s been OK in midfield, but he’s not been as good as many have made out.
Rio Ferdinand: "Wayne Rooney has controlled both games. He’s shown us why he’s in that midfield position." pic.twitter.com/AwTnP0NyaA
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) June 19, 2016
Rooney’s much maligned former club manager Louis Van Gaal made a good fist of converting Rooney into a midfielder, but he’s not quite lived up to his FA Cup semi-final heroics in this position in an England shirt.
Meanwhile the apparently wasteful Henderson comes out of the group stage with a better pass accuracy (91%) than his captain (87%). But again, there isn’t much between them.
In short, the idea that England have key players (other than Eric Dier) is a myth.
Mis-shapes, mistakes, misfits (apart from Eric Dier)
The worst result of England’s tournament so far was the 1-1 draw against Russia.
Leonid Slutsky’s depleted side were the worst at the tournament, but England only managed to score one goal against them — from a set piece — and also conceded the late equaliser.
Instead of taking the game to their weak opponents, England looked happy with a one goal lead, persisting with Harry Kane as a lone striker, while Sturridge, Vardy, and Marcus Rashford remained on the bench.
Attacking midfielders Wayne Rooney and Raheem Sterling were replaced by the more staid presences of James Milner and Jack Wilshere, and England limped through the second half, having shown great promise in the first.
The lack of attacking enterprise against Russia was as much down to the system as it was to the players in it, but both the system and the players remained for the game against Wales.
When the side were behind and needed goals, however, the reinforcements were brought on and both Vardy and Sturridge made an impact, scoring the goals which gave England a narrow, last-gasp win. Their only win in the group.
Marcus Rashford also came off the bench to have a positive impact on the game, and looked more comfortable in the wider area than any England forward has done so far, including Raheem Sterling.
With Vardy and Sturridge converging in central areas, and a tricky, unpredictable threat from Rashford, England looked good.
Then the dreaded changes.
Vardy and Sturridge were in but not as a central duo, while Adam Lallana and Wilshere were standing on each others toes on the left side of midfield.
The changes weren’t the problem, the changes were the right ones, but the way they were made was wrong.
Slovakia weren’t as bad as Russia, but they were still poor and offered next to nothing.
The only chances they had were from the odd shaky moment in England’s defence.
Hodgson’s strangely assembled attack created the chances but couldn’t get past Solvakia’s eastern block, though instead of giving Rashford another go the manager resorted to a plan A which had already failed.
If England are to progress into the depths of this competition then the systems need to be well oiled.
The problem at the moment is that the team don’t know which system to use.
Hodgson hung on to his job even after the side’s miserable performance in Brazil in 2014, where they failed to qualify from the group stages.
The side have improved on that in this European Championship, but they’ll need to work a few things out if the 68-year-old is to remain at the helm beyond this summer.
Although if the chiefs at the FA think resting Wayne Rooney is a reason for not giving Hodgson a new contract, then maybe the problems go beyond the manager.
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