England came agonisingly close to winning their opening game of Euro 2016 last night, but Vasili Berezutski’s 92nd minute equaliser meant they had to settle for a 1-1 draw against Russia after Eric Dier had given them the lead.
Looking at social media after the game, you would have thought we’d lost 6-0, it was incredibly negative. But from my point of view, we played incredibly well. In fact it was the best football I’d seen England play in a long time – it was vibrant, energetic and free-flowing attacking play that was the best the tournament has seen so far. It probably made the late goal even more painful and stimulated some of the pessimistic reaction. But there’s still a good chance we can qualify from Group B, even as winners, if we defeat Wales and Slovakia, which shouldn’t be that hard a task. Neither nation greatly impressed me in their fixture yesterday.
However, there are some things Roy Hodgson needs to change ahead of those games, and much of the criticism yesterday was directed towards the 68 year old’s tactical inadequacy. Hopefully he too realises he got it wrong in Marseille, but here are five things I learned from the draw…
1. Take Harry Kane off set-pieces
Every single England fan was thinking it last night. After seeing Harry Kane take the set-pieces in the warm-up matches, I thought that Hodgson might have realised he’s not very good at them. But he stuck with the 22 year old against Russia.
Where he got the idea from I don’t know. Kane doesn’t take set-pieces for Tottenham except if it’s a free-kick just outside the box. He must have impressed in training, but even then surely Roy would have realised that he is our biggest threat inside the box, not delivering the cross.
Kane is 6ft 2in and we’ve seen what a good header of the ball he is. Ok, none of the players in England’s starting XI are regular set-piece takers for their clubs, but surely more technical players such as Wayne Rooney, Adam Lallana or Dele Alli would be better suited to the role than Kane. Here’s the result of the six corners he took last night:
- Overhit. Alli retrieves on other side of pitch.
- Finds Smalling. Defender heads over from penalty spot.
- Cleared at near post.
- Cleared at near post. Overhit. Russia clear.
- Short to Lallana. Kane receives the ball back but cross just evades Cahill.
Of course, we did end up scoring from a set-piece. But who was the taker? Err… Eric Dier.
2. Get Harry Kane to stay in the box
I don’t want to continue to criticise Harry Kane’s performance, but it really was one of the striker’s poorer games in Marseille. He lined up as the central striker for England, but you wouldn’t have thought it during the match as he spent most of his time out on the wing.
Now I know we’ve seen Kane cut in and score time after time, but equally he’s our most dangerous player in the box. In the Premier League last season, no player scored more goals from inside the box. So stay in the box, Harry! Give defenders a tough time and be a nuisance! I don’t know whether he was told to drift out wide or made the decision himself, but against Wales he needs to stay around the penalty spot and give the wingers a target.
To prove my point, here are some graphics from last night, courtesy of WhoScored:
So that’s not just one touch inside Russia’s box and most of his time spent on the right wing. This can’t happen again.
3. Wayne Rooney is an important player in midfield
It was one of the biggest questions on fans’ lips in the lead up to the tournament – where would Wayne Rooney play? As captain, he was always going to start, but in what role? Last night we got our answer. Midfield.
The 30 year old featured there for Manchester United in the closing weeks of the domestic season, and he has always said previously in his career that is where he pictured himself ending up. I thought he did really well, and was probably my man of the match as he produced a master class. Of the starters, only Danny Rose and Eric Dier completed more passes than Rooney (48), whilst no one won a higher percentage of duels (80%) or created more chances (two) than the skipper.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when he was surprisingly substituted, England looked disjointed and ended up conceding. Granted, Rooney was given a lot of time and space by Russia that enabled him to be so influential, but the none less he silenced those who doubted his place in the side.
4. Stick with the 4-3-3
Before the tournament, I was very keen for England to play a 4-4-2 diamond formation as I thought that was how we would be able to fit all of our best players in. Hodgson gave me my wish by trialling it against Portugal in a friendly, but even I must admit that it didn’t really work. We played dull football that created few clear cut chances.
So he reverted to 4-3-3 in Marseille, and I think this allowed us to play much more free-flowing football that allowed us to dominate so impressively. The wings were used effectively, with Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana as well as full-backs Danny Rose and Kyle Walker continually providing a threat on the flanks. If only there had been someone in the middle hey Harry?
The midfield three of Dier, Rooney and Alli worked well together with the latter playing slightly further forward, allowing each of the trio to play to their strengths. The formation was one of the few things Hodgson got right against Russia and should certainly stick with it against Wales. Just perhaps with different personnel..
5. Sturridge and Vardy need to play
England have taken five strikers to Euro 2016, more than any other country, yet only two featured against Russia – one of which in midfield.
I wasn’t too bothered about Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge starting on the bench, as their pace could well be key late on in the game against a tired Russia defence. And it would have been. If they had come on, that is.
A 1-0 lead is never a comfortable lead, even if you’re dominating the game like England were. So what I cannot understand is why Hodgson didn’t bring on one or both of Vardy and Kane in order to kill the game off. Even if they were brought on to play on the wing I wouldn’t have minded as they can both do a reasonable job there. Plus, they couldn’t have been much worse than Sterling and Lallana who both flattered to deceive.
Yet instead, James Milner was brought on and subsequently failed to close down Georgi Schennikov, allowing the Russian left-back to get the ball into the box to set up his country’s equaliser.
Against Wales, I think one of the pair, probably Vardy, needs to replace Sterling in the starting XI, with Sturridge definitely making an appearance off the bench at some point.