The road to Russia

By | Sport
England manager Sam Allardyce. Credit @tumblr.com.

England opened their 2018 World Cup qualification campaign with a 1-0 victory away to Slovakia. In doing so, Allardyce was victorious in his maiden voyage as manager, becoming the 9th consecutive England manager to win their opening fixture. Having started eight players which featured in England’s last match, at Euro 2016 versus Iceland, the eventual match winner was Adam Lallana, a player who Allardyce had brought in seemingly based on his club form. Lallana’s first international goal in the fifth minute of added time separating the two sides and providing England with the three points. With 9 further matches still to play for England in this qualification group, it seems Allardyce may need to continuously implement his philosophy in order to ensure England win the group and qualify automatically for the tournament in Russia.

Allardyce’s tactics at the start of the match seem to focus on familiarity, starting with a 4-2-3-1 formation. His flexibility as a manager seemed to be showcased later in the match, as he altered the formation to 4-3-3 as the desire for a goal increased. The match seemed to be heavily in England’s favour, with the away side recording 20 shots and 64% possession. England spent the majority of the game in Slovakia’s third, pushing for a goal, and the introduction of Arsenal wide man Theo Walcott in the 71st minute almost provided one, before his strike was correctly deemed offside by the officials. Substitute Daniel Sturridge seemed to bring additional pace and flair to England’s front three, and it was his stretching of the Slovakian defence which seemed to provide the space for Lallana to slot his strike past the goalkeeper. Lallana’s late winner, which seemed to come due to England’s high pressing tactic, may suggest England’s players contained desire, as they continued to press for victory and win the game late on, even when a point seemed to be secured.

Adam Lallana celebrating scoring the winning goal versus Slovakia. Credit @tumblr.com.

Adam Lallana celebrating scoring the winning goal versus Slovakia. Credit @tumblr.com.

Allardyce’s squad included multiple players who seem to be playing consistently well for their clubs, and as such seem to have been rewarded with an international call up. Among these players is Danny Drinkwater; the Leicester midfielder, and title winner, was called into the side to compete with Eric Dier as the linchpin of the team. Midfielder Michail Antonio was called up to the international set-up for the first time, his consistent scoring form for West Ham, with two goals in his last two games, seeming to be rewarded. His inclusion of players seemingly in consistent form for their clubs may suggest Allardyce will give opportunities to any English player who seems to show consistent quality.

Allardyce also seemed to keep faith in experienced players who spearheaded predecessor Roy Hodgson’s side; captain Wayne Rooney maintained his place in the side, becoming England’s most capped outfield player in the process, and Joe Hart, now applying his trade in Italy with Torino, kept a clean sheet in goal. Furthermore, his managerial record in the Premier League may suggest he is able to get the best out of all players; at Sunderland last season, he built a 4-5-1 system focussing around Jermain Defoe, which may have contributed to him scoring 15 goals in England’s top division. Allardyce’s win in his debut game as manager may act as a catalyst in providing momentum for the road to Russia.

England’s next qualification fixture is on the 8th October at Wembley stadium, in a game versus Malta. This, and the eight matches afterwards, may determine England’s position in the group, and thus the players may seem to want to continue the form that enabled them to win the first qualifier. Allardyce seems to be driving the team in the right direction, as his tactics and changes in personnel seemed to act as the catalyst in the victory; starting Adam Lallana, and attacking Slovakia from the wings, seemed to work. If he is able to continue to implement his philosophy onto the team, England may be able to qualify for the World Cup in 2018, and perhaps the opening victory may act as motivation to succeed in the other fixtures.

Which players may start in England’s upcoming qualifiers?

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