England are going to win the Euros. The odds have been slashed, the World Champions have been put to the sword and England are on the up.
This is all predicted hyperbole after England’s performance against Germany but even I must admit, the very nature of the comeback was as both surprising, as it was impressive. England throughout looked the better side and too be 2-0 down at one point was a harsh reflection on a very good performance.
The Kroos goal was something of a freak. Butland should have kicked the ball out of play but equally I am sure he thought it was more a case of walking it off rather than not walking for the next couple of weeks. It was a cruel piece of luck for Jack Butland, oh so impressive this season for Stoke, I think the fact that Roy started Butland against Germany spoke wonders of the Stoke keepers progress this season and was a real chance to set a marker down to be England’s number 2. (On that note, it is a great shame that it looks like Butland will be missing the Euro’s with a fractured ankle and big blow to Stoke for the rest of this season).
Germany’s second goal was just good football. The cross into the far post was a cracking ball and whilst you could Cahill lost his man and left Gomez facing a distinct height advantage for a free header; let’s not take anything away from Gomez. His movement was class to free up space and even if faced with a challenge for the header, no one would have saved the eventual goal. It was a very good header from a player, who on his day is an extremely good centre forward.
With the negatives out the way, a little quick fire look at the positives, and boy there were many.
For all my own worries about full backs and perhaps the lack of any world class players to fill the flanks, Clyne and especially Rose have gone a long way to cementing their starting places against Russia. Rose was mightily impressive and when the next squad England comes around Aaron Cresswell is included, I would be very surprised if it wasn’t Danny Rose and Cresswell on the plane.
Other stand out performers were Danny Welbeck, who tirelessly worked the left flank and looks in very good nick after such a long period out injured. Harry Kane, continued his club form with a fantastically executed goal, and the combination play between himself and Dele Alli (who is just unreal for a 19 year old) will certainly see both Tottenham players starting in France. Then we have Jamie Vardy. The guy scored with a glancing back heel with almost his first touch of the game, against perhaps the best goal keeper in the world – Jamie Vardy is owning this season like no other. It is weird, beyond words and something to just basically marvel at.
I want to take a moment as well to praise Roy Hodgson. In a world where managers just get bollocked and ripped apart by fans and pundits alike overall, the changes Roy implemented when going down to 2-0 showed ambition and a willingness to experiment. Even at 2-0 there were positives to take from the game, but Germany couldn’t deal with Vardy both individually with his pace but also with the shape England took up after his (and Ross Barkley’s) introduction. Options from the bench and a plan B are crucial at international football and whilst players like Vardy might have to settle with a place on the bench, Hodgson will be more than aware that he has a real game changer on his hands.
But now enough of this bathing in glory. We all turn our attention to Tuesday night and the arrival of the Dutch.
What Dutch side will turn up no one knows. They didn’t make the Euros even though it is perhaps the easiest tournament (for a team of Holland’s stature) to make in the world. And yet in their last game, just a couple of days ago, they almost beat France. Hot and cold seems more than apt to describe Dutch performance over the last 18 months.
It’s a Dutch squad made up a lot of unfamiliar names (to me at least) as their golden generation that included the likes of Van Persie, Van Dar Vaart and Sneijder start to bow out from the international stage. What does all these mean for England? A game for which they are favourites but could arguably have a tougher challenge on their hands the Germany fixture.
So who will Roy entrust to take on this transitional Dutch side? I know I am not Roy but here is my England XI…
GK: Fraser Forster
RB: Kyle Walker CB: John Stones CB: Chris Smalling LB: Danny Rose
CDM: James Milner CDM: Danny Drinkwater
RM: Theo Walcott CAM: Ross Barkley LM: Jamie Vardy
ST: Daniel Sturridge
Perhaps not as nuanced as the team to face Germany, this is English football with pace to burn.
I imagine Hodgson will use more of the squad when facing the Dutch and will gives the likes of Walker and Walcott a run out from the beginning. With burn out a risk, I imagine with various important run-in’s on the horizon the likes of Dele Alli will get some rest time before the Premier League kicks off once more in earnest.
I hope Danny Drinkwater can get a full 90 minutes under his belt this time round. With such a great defensive reading of the game, coupled with the Duracell fuelled James Milner, England’s base should allow the likes of Vardy and Sturridge to focus much more on engineering attacking chances. One thing made perfectly clear by Leicester City this season is that sharp and well executed counter attacks are difficult to deal with, and whilst International Football might offer a different set of rules, it must be worthwhile for Roy to explore a more direct game centred on a fast transition from defence to attack.
Will England beat Holland? I don’t think it really matters. The Germany game was bright moment for this England side but even they had gone on to lose that game, there were positives to be taken from the performance. Let’s just hope we see another bright and dynamic England performance at Wembley. A win is just an added bonus.
Rich, The Sweeper Football Blog