Football: Three Lions go on the attack

England skipper Wayne Rooney leading the players through their training drills. Their manager Roy Hodgson has picked five natural centre-forwards in his Euro 2016 squad and may look to test his attacking options when they face Portugal at Wembley in
England skipper Wayne Rooney leading the players through their training drills. Their manager Roy Hodgson has picked five natural centre-forwards in his Euro 2016 squad and may look to test his attacking options when they face Portugal at Wembley in their final pre-tournament friendly today.PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

England manager pleased with balance of his squad amid top-heavy choices

LONDON • There has to be a possibility that Roy Hodgson's decision to load five strikers into his Euro 2016 squad might ultimately be held against him if England's tournament turns out to be as harrowing as when Kevin Keegan did the same in a different era.

Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Marcus Rashford will provide the offensive options when England's football squad check into the Auberge du Jeu de Paume in Chantilly, France, next week.

England will certainly have a more potent look than when Hodgson was parachuted into the job to replace Fabio Capello and went into Euro 2012 with Rooney, Andy Carroll, Danny Welbeck and Jermain Defoe as his strikers.

Hodgson's verdict after another unsatisfactory tournament was that England had an obvious shortage of front players.

Four years on, he has picked the most adventurous list, perhaps, since Keegan included Alan Shearer, Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, Emile Heskey and Kevin Phillips in his squad for Euro 2000, when they were eliminated in the group stage.

But who among the five will Hodgson pick to play in his starting XI?

TOTAL FOOTBALL

The balance is good. If anything, it is tilted towards an offensive approach. We believe defending is a team job.

ROY HODGSON, England manager, quelling suggestions his squad are excessively attack-minded.

Kane and Vardy scored as many Premier League goals (49) last season as Manchester United's entire squad. Rooney has managed 20 in the league since the 2014 World Cup. Rashford has talent, momentum and an apparent immunity to nerves.

Sturridge's injury issues might count against him but Hodgson is on record for describing him as the most natural finisher of his strikers.

And it seems to have been largely overlooked that the Liverpool striker has scored eight times at club level since March. Of all England's strikers, only Kane has better figures in the last couple of months.

The downside is England's squad have a slightly lopsided look with Hodgson finding room for only three centre-backs, with Eric Dier primed to move back from midfield in an emergency, and a distinct lack of natural width now Andros Townsend has been dropped.

And it is certainly a calculated gamble that only eight out of his 20 outfield players can be described as defence-minded.

"The balance is good," Hodgson insisted at a press conference yesterday. "If anything, it is tilted towards an offensive approach. We believe defending is a team job."

Last weekend, the England manager was asked whether it was possible to shoehorn Rooney, Kane and Vardy into the same team. "Of course," he replied. Sturridge, one imagines, will not want to be the odd one out.

Rashford has an awful lot going for him, even if he is likely to be fifth in the pecking order, and neither should it be forgotten that Raheem Sterling started the Australia friendly as a striker.

The friendly against Portugal at Wembley today - when the visitors will be without the rested Cristiano Ronaldo - might be a chance for Hodgson to try Rooney, Kane and Vardy in the same side.

The two Premier League top scorers have already shown they can work well together as split strikers whereas Rooney could move back into the No. 10 role. That, however, is the position where Dele Alli has been most effective for England.

Hodgson could also elect to use Rooney as an out-and-out striker next to Kane, which would leave Sterling, Adam Lallana, Alli and Ross Barkley to fight it out for the No. 10 position. There is, in short, no straightforward answer.

Hodgson has tested both a 4-4-2 formation with a midfield diamond and a 4-3-3 system, with the 4-4-2 expected to hold sway for England's opening Euro 2016 game against Russia on June 11.

Yesterday, he said he will not experiment against Portugal.

"I don't need to try anything out any more," he said.

"I am not prepared to say the side that starts tomorrow will start versus Russia."

All that can really be said for certain is that Hodgson has never had a more attractive set of options.

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 02, 2016, with the headline 'Three Lions go on attack'. Print Edition | Subscribe