Roy Hodgson's dilemma: How should England line up at the Euro 2016?
Roy Hodgson is certainly a man in a dilemma. With less than a week remaining until England kick off their Euro 2016 campaign against Russia in Marseille, many questions have been raised on how the England manager will set up the attacking system with the likes of Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy at his disposal.
England's friendly against Portugal at Wembley on Thursday was the first time that the trio started a game together. Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane , who scored 49 league goals between them for Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur in the recently concluded EPL season, were pushed wide with Rooney being deployed at the center spearheading the attacking system.
This experiment somewhat proved to be a failure with the attacking trio managing only 2 shots between them throughout the game. Chris Smalling's late header did secure an underwhelming 1-0 win for The three Lions but the game raised more questions than answers for Roy Hodgson.
The decision to play Vardy and Kane as split strikers to accommodate Rooney in the center at the tip of a diamond meant that Dele Alli was pushed back from his natural position, a position in which the young midfielder has thrived in his breakthrough 15/16 season for Spurs in the Premier League.
England looked more threatening later in the second half with Dele Alli taking up a more prominent position. This only strengthens the argument that Alli should be deployed in his natural Number 10 role in the team.
The question which has been troubling Roy Hodgson the most is the role of Rooney in the team with many arguing that the England captain should be dropped as the 30-year-old has become a sort of weak link and has been blunting England's attack as evident from the friendly game against Portugal.
Critics have opined that Kane and Vardy should be played up close together as center forwards instead of being deployed on the wings with Rooney being dropped in a much deeper role or should be omitted from the starting XI.
However, Roy Hodgson came to the defence of his captain , “I’m not prepared to make this the Wayne Rooney show. You’re talking about the player who has played 111 games for England and scored 53 goals, so perhaps his best position is anywhere on the field,” he told the reporters.
"It's a good problem to have, shoehorning in attacking players. I don’t think for a long time that I’ve had that, a lot of good attacking players to shoehorn so you won’t find me complaining about that," added the 68-year-old.
It's quite understandable why Rooney remains a pivotal part of Roy's plan. The England team has the youngest squad on average of any of the 24 participant countries in the Euros.
An average age of 25 years and 314 days. Such a young side needs someone who has the experience and exposure of major international tournaments to guide them through crucial stages and big games, with Rooney having plenty of it, going into his sixth major finals.
Harry Kane, the Premier League Golden boot winner this season with 25 goals and the first Englishman to do so in 16 years is prepared to adapt his game for Hodgson.
“We've been working on it in training, trying different systems and we went with the diamond against Portugal,” said Kane. “Me and Jamie felt we had to go a bit wider to get the ball and, in hindsight, maybe we should have stayed a bit closer together.
“It's something we've got to learn from. The manager's got to pick his team and his formation for the first game against Russia, and we've got to be ready and prepared for whatever that is,” added the 22-year-old.
Sterling has been promising in the last two friendlies and there are doubts over Wilshere's best position in the team. Eric Dier has remained rock solid in the defensive midfield role and John Stones is probably their most impressive defender in the warm-up games.
The most curious question remains how much the England manager will use Marcus Rashford , the 18-year-old prodigy who continued his fairytale rise by scoring on his England debut against Australia on May 27 and in doing so became the youngest Englishman to score on his international debut .
“There is debate over our best 11. I’m pretty sure if I asked what is our best 11, there would be different ideas, but that’s not always been the case. There have been times where I’ve stood here and you are telling me there are no alternatives, now you all suggest a different 11, different ideas and that’s how it should be,” said Hodgson.
Roy Hodgson certainly has an onerous task of selecting the best possible starting XI and to architect a system which brings out the best of all his players, particularly the attacking trio of Rooney, Vardy and Kane and also Dele Alli as the Three Lions looks to avoid another setback in a major international tournament.