Game of the Day: England vs. Russia, Marseille, 20:00
You can be unbeaten in 32 games but if they don’t mean anything then what’s the point. England have had a lovely little run of results but now it’s time to bring your game faces, switch on the style and for Roy Hodgson, continue this positive upwards trend we find England on at the moment.
Normally England go into a tournament (at least since the first real tournament I remember – France ’98) with a burden, an expectation that we will put any side we play to the sword as we prove once and for all that we are the best at this fine game. It never happens. Especially in 2008 where England didn’t even get to the bit of the tournament where you win the trophy.
Yet Euro 2016 seems different. Firstly, no one really thinks that we are going to win the thing and secondly, England actually have quite a good squad. So what better way to ramp up tournament expectations than England playing at 20.00 on a Saturday night? It’s prime time baby!
England will be confident going into this group that they can emerge as potential group winners. Whilst not the easiest of the groups, England have (only after I researched who every other team in the Euro’s played as warm-up fixtures – the Czech Republic played San Marino for some reason) had an incredibly encouraging preparation.
The squad seems balanced and happy, no injuries have been picked up and whilst the performance against Portugal was widely derided as a bit crap, I thought as an exercise against a strong team playing with 10 men, Roy and England would of learnt a lot about the squad tactically. So what to expect from playing Russia?Embed from Getty Images
The big question everyone wants to know is how England will line up in the final third of the field. Will Roy go with Wayne Rooney as a no.10? Or even at all? Will Kane and Vardy both start with Rooney pushing up? Or will Roy revert to a 4-3-3 and go for width with just Kane down the middle? OH HOW THE MIND BOGGLES AT THE POSSIBILITIES.
I for one would play a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 with Kane as a central striker. Whilst it would be harsh on Jamie Vardy to limit him to being an ‘impact sub’, both Kane and Vardy play best centrally and in Jamie Vardy England have a genuine game changing weapon to bring off the bench.
Another interesting facet to this England squad is Jack Wilshere. Where and how will Jack Wilshere be utilised is anyone’s guess. Wilshere seems to be a play you can perhaps get more out of starting, allowing him to dictate play rather than coming on as a sub and having to adapt or grapple a game to his style. The question then though is who will miss out? You need the cover and the legs offered up by Eric Dier and James Milner and you have to start Dele Alli regardless. In which case you are dropping either Wayne Rooney or potentially Vardy or Adam Lallana depending on formation.
Whilst England would have liked to start their campaign against Slovakia, Russia represents the second best scenario but Russia do come into this tournament as something of a mixed bag. Under Fabio Capello, Russia really were insipid and struggling to qualify for France but now under new coach Leonid Slutsky, Russia seem to have turned a corner.
Nearly all of the Russian squad has been selected from the Russian Premier League, so unless you picked up a bargain from Russia on FIFA16 or watched the likes of Zenit or CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, Russian players can be a little bit of an unknown.
Unlike England though, Russia aren’t coming with a young side and in the form of central defensive pairing Sergei Ignashevich (aged 36) and Vasili Berezutski (turning 34 on the day Russia play Wales) will certainly be targeted by Roy Hodgson and Chris Coleman alike.
Roy Hodgson will undoubtedly want to get these European Championships off to the right start and I can’t help but think that England fans will get what they wish for. This England squad seems much more together than previous squads. They aren’t carrying the burden of aging talent and genuinely have one of the best attacking line-ups at the tournament.
Rich, The Sweeper Football Blog