With a 2-0 victory over Switzerland England began their push for qualification for the upcoming Euro 2016 with a win over their group’s strongest opponents. Shifting to a diamond formation, spearheaded by Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck with support in the advanced midfield from Raheem Sterling, Roy Hodgson demonstrated an admirable willingness to change from his typical conservative approach in order to make full use of the flair of England’s players.
Rooney linked up well with former teammate Danny Welbeck, who joined Arsenal in a transfer deadline day move following Manchester United’s acquisition of Radamel Falcao, and while he was still prone to dropping deep to pick up the ball the presence of Raheem Sterling, playing in the number 10 role, kept him further forward than he might otherwise have wandered. It was Welbeck, though, who proved the more fruitful of the strike partnership, twice burying the ball into the back of the Switzerland net. Turning in both a well-placed Sterling cross and a late through-ball from Rickie Lambert, Welbeck demonstrated his quality in front of goal, thriving in a system where he is able to play in his preferred central role.
While Welbeck’s performance was demonstrably aided by the transition to a diamond formation, he was far from the only player whose role was significantly adjusted by the change in strategy. It had seemed as though any conversion to a diamond formation would see Jack Colback at the base of the midfield, with the Newcastle newcomer, described by Roy Hodgson (albeit somewhat over-emphatically) as “the English Pirlo”, clearly suited to such a role, with a playing style which combines industrious tackling and skilful passing. However, a knock to his calf led Colback to pull out of the squad for both the qualifier with Switzerland and the preceding friendly with Norway, leaving the door open for Jack Wilshere. A talented, if occassionally inconsistent, midfielder, Wilshere’s qualities necessitated a different approach to the role of deep-lying midfielder. More comfortable moving forwards with the ball, and without the range of passing necessary to mimic the quarterback-esque playmaker style which Steven Gerrard had displayed for both club and country, Wilshere instead utilised his controlled running and composure on the ball, his skilful movement allowing him to spur England forward. While he occasionally strayed from his base position, rendering the back line exposed and compromising England’s countering manoeuvres by leaving Joe Hart without a direct pass into the middle of the park, his performance in an unfamiliar position was exceedingly encouraging. With reports suggesting Roy Hodgson sent him back to Arsenal with homework in the form of footage of Andrea Pirlo and Javier Mascherano, Wilshere appears keen to improve in his new role.
While Colback may have to wait for his international introduction, another midfield debutant made his case to retain his starting position in the upcoming match with San Marino. Fabian Delph, a regular for Aston Villa, began in a somewhat over-enthusiastic fashion, lunging into some rash tackles and picking up an early yellow card. Visibly awed by the occasion, and evidently keen to impress, Delph grew into the game as it progressed, displaying an improved calmness and endeavour, and demonstrating incisive running as he created opportunities for those ahead of him.
These new additions to the squad demonstrate an increased willingness to cast a wide net in the search for players. The inclusion of players from teams outside the top seven, while perhaps highlighting how few English players feature for some of the top teams (particularly Chelsea and the Manchester Clubs), demonstrates a willingness to look beyond typical sources for players, as well as a commitment to what has proved the most effective formation for England. Ensuring that he makes the best use of Sterling, Sturridge and Welbeck with the further use of the diamond, Hodgson has completed his side with players who are well suited to this new formation. A refreshing stance of form over reputation appears to be the driving factor behind call-ups to the England team, resulting in a more complete and effective international side.
What further changes might be made to further improve England’s chances?