After a routine 6-0 win against San Marino, England have qualified for France 2016 with ease and few hiccups. An impressive 100% win record so far was almost expected, considering the calibre and lack of troublesome fixtures. But with three games remaining, England still have targets in mind. As well as finishing their qualifying group unbeaten and prolonging that winning run, plus Wayne Rooney’s chance to score a record-breaking goal, most importantly, now is the time to experiment. England have three games which, on paper, seem meaningless and only fulfil fixture requirements but nevertheless are an opportunity for Roy to tinker with his tactics and squad.
Time for Roy Hodgson to Explore England’s Depth
I have never understood the point of regularly calling up the likes of Jamie Vardy, Harry Kane and Jonjo Shelvey if they’re only going to be reduced to 70th minute substitute cameos. Give them a chance and experiment. Shelvey could be the answer to England’s creativity problems; Kane could be Hodgson’s trump card. While Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain might not be a regular for Arsenal, he could flourish as a starter in central midfield or as a winger. They might not be the answers to England’s problems but it’s worth a shot and time to appease the pessimistic corners of England’s fanbase. Reward club form with starting positions for the national side.
Thankfully, the victory against San Marino did hint that Roy Hodgson is heading in the right direction. To his credit, handing first international starts to Jonjo Shelvey and Jamie Vardy is a positive move from Hodgson and a trend that should continue in the fixtures against Switzerland, Estonia and Lithuania. Three games to go with Switzerland looking to seal qualification and Estonia and Lithuania aiming to rustle a few English feathers, this is an important time to start planning ahead of next year’s Euros.
Support players’ specialities by using alternative formations and tactics gives the manager an extra trick up his sleeve. By swapping and changing players with fringe players, it increases competition for positions, offers something different and sets a benchmark. Players like Jonjo Shelvey and Ross Barkley need to convince Roy that they are reliable starters for England and can adapt to the specific roles he wants his players to play.
Jonjo Shelvey’s performance against San Marino embodied why alternative players must be blended in with the regular starters. He brought the style, discipline, passing range and vision from his Swansea performances to the game against San Marino and impressed with a man of the match performance. Many fans will say: “what do you expect? He was playing against some part-timers,” but the Swansea midfielder slotted into a deep midfield role with no trouble and made a good account of himself to further build on with upcoming games. With Jack Wilshere unfortunately injured, Shelvey provides Hodgson with a solid replacement for the Arsenal midfielder, providing he is satisfied with playing in a deeper role than he does for Swansea.
The preparation for Euro 2016 and England’s future begins now. Perform well in these next three games, set up some challenging friendly fixtures and use the depth of Hodgson’s promising squad and hopefully the national team will blossom. While some may complain about England lacking any tactical nous or an attractive playing style, it’s time to change the stigma surrounding Roy Hodgson’s England and craft the side into a well-oiled, balanced side packed with players full of flair, pace and creativity. Then perhaps come May we can stop writing off England’s chances and dream for something better than a 0-0 draw against Costa Rica.