Six games, 18 goals scored, three goals conceded, and most importantly, six wins. At the top of Euro 2016 qualifying Group E, England know victory in San Marino next month will virtually guarantee The Three Lions a place in France for the finals. So, you’d be correct in thinking everything is rosy, right? Think again. With a host of injuries and a number of important players struggling for form, problems are starting to arise for England, just at the wrong time.
Problems For Roy Hodgson’s English National Team
After a disappointing World Cup in Brazil and the retirement of captain Steven Gerrard, England needed to rebuild. And when England strolled off the sacred Wembley turf having just beaten minnows Lithuania 4-0 on the 27th of March, it looked as if the tide was beginning to turn. The scorers that day were Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Raheem Sterling and of course, Harry Kane on debut. England finally looked to be building a well-rounded attacking threat, taking some responsibility off of Rooney.
However, England’s attacking weapons are currently blunt. On the back of the departures of Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao, Wayne Rooney has been reinstated as Manchester United’s attacking centrepiece, a role he has been striving to reacquire since van Persie’s arrival in 2012. But, he’s struggling. Rooney has not found the net in the Premier League since April, and Saturday’s game against Newcastle was the first Premier League match in 2015 that he’s managed more than one shot on target.
In United’s first game against Spurs, the Red Devil’s had to rely on a Kyle Walker own-goal, as the right back dispossessed a dawdling Rooney only to see his attempted tackle trickle cruelly into his own net. A goal, the Rooney of old would have dispatched himself, before Walker had time to attempt a tackle. United’s next match at Villa saw Rooney’s performance levels drop to a new low. Whilst United and England’s captain struggled to work with a lack of support, his touch was sloppy and his passing was less than convincing as United once again looked short of ideas around the Villa goal. Although it’s early days, Rooney’s performances have been disappointing this season and England’s talisman is in desperate need of goals. England’s trip to San Marino on September the 5th could be seen as the perfect opportunity to overtake Sir Bobby Charlton’s record as England’s all-time leading scorer, and reintroduce some confidence to his game.
But is not just Rooney who is struggling for goals. Tottenham’s Harry Kane has failed to find the net this season and has only scored two Premier League goals since April. Like Rooney, Kane is also lacking attacking support, much like he did during England’s dismal display at the European Under 21 Championships this summer. Despite Kane’s recent lack of goals, his performances have been largely impressive, and Roy Hodgson will be hopeful Kane will be able to rediscover some of the goal-scoring form of last term.
Alongside Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling is widely seen as the future of English football. On the back of two impressive campaigns with Liverpool, the thought around the England camp is that Hodgson should build his side around Sterling, much like Brazil do with Neymar. However, after Sterling’s £49m transfer to Manchester City this summer the pressure has never been as intense for the 20 year-old. City’s reputation of buying English talent and then continuing to play their international superstars has seen many question how much game-time Sterling will get. Whilst Sterling’s early season performances have undoubtedly been a success, the talent at Manuel Pellegrini’s disposal will make it harder for the England winger to nail-down a place in City’s starting 11, regardless of his extravagant price-tag.
Another worry for Hodgson is injuries. The reemergence of Jack Wilshere’s ankle injury, just as he was starting to look imperious for England will be of great worry to the England coaching staff. Wilshere’s stunning brace against Slovenia in England’s last qualifier saw the Arsenal man crowned Man of the Match, as is often the case when Wilshere starts for The Three Lions. Wilshere’s partnership with Jordan Henderson is seen as the long-term answer to succeed the Gerrard/Lampard era, but with Wilshere still plagued by injuries, that answer is very much uncertain. If fit, Wilshere will be instrumental to any challenge England amass in France but such is the severity of his injury woes, Hodgson may keep faith with Man City new boy Fabian Delph who, although undoubtedly less talented than Wilshere, has performed admirably in his absence.
Danny Welbeck, whose England goal-scoring form is impressive, has joined Wilshere and Daniel Sturridge on the physio’s table, too. Welbeck and Sturridge’s direct pace through the centre offers something Kane and Rooney can’t. When England inevitably encounter stronger competition at Euro 2016, the need for Welbeck and Sturridge’s pace will be essential for England against sides that are likely to dominate possession. Whilst Welbeck and Sturridge may not start as frequently as say, Rooney or Kane, the pair are essential to England. If Kane and Rooney’s goal-scoring droughts continue and Welbeck and Sturridge remain injured, Hodgson will be very short of goals and experience up front.
There is some good news for Hodgson, yet. Everton and England starlets John Stones and Ross Barkley have started the new season brightly, with both vying to earn England places ahead of Euro 2016, whilst a fit again Theo Walcott will also please England bosses. Nevertheless, Hodgson will be increasingly worried about the form and condition of some of his star performers ahead of what is a crucial tournament for English football. Whilst the new football season has only just got underway and England looked to have qualified comfortably for France, Hodgson will be hoping his players return to fitness and form sooner, rather than later.