Team chemistry has been gaining increasing importance in international football, perhaps after recent title-winning nations seemed to have been built on the backs of their most successful club side. Spain’s all-conquering sides from 2008-2012 were based on a hugely successful Barcelona side then-managed by Pep Guardiola, while Germany’s World Cup triumph in 2014 contained much influence from Guardiola’s Bayern Munich side of 2013/14. This trend has certainly not been missed by England boss Roy Hodgson.
Similar to the build up to that World Cup, there has been an unexpected challenger for the Premier League title in the run up to Euro 2016. Both title challenging sides had a core of English players, with their success providing Hodgson with a possible formula to replicate in his attempts to forge a strong chemistry within the national side.
Back then, Brendan Rodgers’ (almost) all-conquering Liverpool side seemed to be storming to their first Premier League title, with a local core of Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge all starring for the Reds, with full-backs Glen Johnson and Jon Flanagan rounding up the English contingent.
suarez-less england and liverpool could not replicate the latter’s 2013/14 form
The then-skipper of club and country was at the base of the diamond, with young star Sterling at the tip, while Henderson buzzed about in the centre of the park. Sturridge produced his best form alongside the mercurial Luis Suarez, as both established such a productive relationship that the media coined their partnership ‘the new SAS’.
Hodgson did not opt for Rodgers’ 4-4-2 diamond, but instead tried a 4-2-3-1 formation, probably as the England boss did not have the world-class talent of Suarez. In Hodgson’s variation of Liverpool’s class of 2013/14, Gerrard did sit the deepest, while Henderson used his energy to get up-and-down the pitch, albeit from a deeper position alongside his skipper. Sterling, at least for the first World Cup group match against Italy, retained his spot as the No.10, Sturridge led the line, while Johnson took up his customary role at right-back.
The biggest difference for Hodgson here was, of course, the use of two wide, inside forwards to replace a central midfielder – either Joe Allen or Philippe Coutinho in Liverpool’s case – and an out-and-out attacker. Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck took up those inside forward roles for the Italy game, with Rooney subsequently swapping with Sterling for the tournament-ending loss to Suarez’s Uruguay.
substantial merseyside influence in england’s doomed world cup campaign
England’s group-stage exit in 2014 was attributed by some to Hodgson’s failure to properly utilise the in-form Liverpool quintet. What would have happened if Hodgson did use the 4-4-2 diamond favoured by Rodgers that year? He could have tried to establish a strike partnership between Sturridge and Rooney (or even Welbeck), while the likes of Jack Wilshere, James Milner, Adam Lallana and even veteran Frank Lampard or then-prospect Ross Barkley could have partnered Henderson in the midfield two ahead of Gerrard.
Might England have reached the last 16? Of course we’ll never know, but those lessons learned could be applied to this year’s group as they look to mount an unlikely bid for the Euro 2016 title.
This time around, Hodgson has been eyeing the young English spine performing at White Hart Lane under Mauricio Pochettino. The Argentine manager has mainly used Hodgson’s (and, in all fairness, most managers’) favoured 4-2-3-1 as Spurs continue to mount a sustained title challenge.
are spurs’ england internationals of the required quality?
Key to Pochettino’s success this year, and probably of most note for Hodgson, is the emergence of Eric Dier as a top-class defensive midfielder. Used as a right-back and centre-half last year, Dier’s seamless and useful transition as a physical, intelligent ‘half-back’ has provided Spurs with a defensive solidarity not seen in recent times, while providing the team with a base from which English duo Kyle Walker and Danny Rose can provide the necessary width from full-back.
With much more certainty at the back, and with full-backs able to push on like wingers, Pochettino can then allow free reign for this season’s breakthrough star Dele Alli, in behind goal machine Harry Kane. With more than twenty league goals, it is no surprise Hodgson have come to rely on Kane, especially with current skipper Rooney struggling for fitness and form.
spurs and england’s central spine?
The England boss has been experimenting with the Spurs’ formula, particularly during the recent international break. Dier seemed right at home at the base of England’s midfield. Rose is starting to establish himself as England’s first-choice left-back, while Walker might have a fight on his hands against Liverpool’s Nathaniel Clyne for the right-back spot, with the latter starting in Berlin. Kane and Alli were the most advanced for England, like they are for Spurs, and were hugely influential against the world champions.
Might the 3-2 victory in Germany convince Hodgson to opt fully for Pochettino’s 4-2-3-1? If Hodgson does attempt to do so, this could be a possible first XI for England against Russia on June 11, based on players’ current form and fitness (England’s non-Spurs players are compared with the non-English starting XI players at Spurs).
Spurs’ defensive solidarity, heavily reliant on Dier and their defensive partnership from Belgium, will be hard to replicate as only Chris Smalling can be seen as a reliable defender for Hodgson, while Everton’s John Stones or Chelsea’s Gary Cahill have struggled for consistent form throughout the season. Henderson would do a different job to Dembele, with his energy and running in contrast to the Belgian’s elegant playmaking abilities.
It’s probably in the wide areas where there might be potential dilemmas for Hodgson, in trying to replicate the 2015/16 Spurs’ side. Rooney could be best accommodated in the spot usually filled by Danish playmaker Christian Eriksen at Spurs, or a more energetic option might be the use of Danny Welbeck. On the other flank, Ross Barkley, or maybe even Theo Walcott, could do a comparable job to what Nacer Chadli – on occasion Erik Lamela – brings to Pochettino’s side. Again, more defensive options are available to Hodgson, with James Milner and Adam Lallana possible alternatives.
one of these tireless reds to fill the final spot in hodgson’s spurs-inspired side?
Recent history might suggest Hodgson should either fully replicate Pochettino’s tactical style, and fit his in-form Spurs’ Englishmen in their appropriate positions – alongside players of other clubs who might be of similar style to the non-English personnel surrounding them at White Hart Lane – or simply not try at all. The final three pre-tournament friendlies might bring about Hodgson’s final answer for England and their long-suffering fans.
What do you think? Should Hodgson try to translate the chemistry and form of the current title-challenging Spurs side with his England team?