By Manish Pandey.
England’s result against Slovakia has left them in a precarious position.
Now on the hard side of the draw, with teams such as Spain, Italy and Germany, England’s Euro 2016 hopes have taken a huge hit. However, before they even think about those teams, they must first overcome Iceland. They must not underestimate this very clever team. Nor should they feel inhibited.
Roy Hodgson made 6 changes from the starting XI against Wales. 4 changes from the team that finished the 2nd half very strongly against Wales. Those changes backfired. There was no need to change a team that was on a high. It disrupts rhythm and player momentum.
The disruption was evident with England’s failure to score a goal and create several clear cut chances. As Germany showed against Northern Ireland, the best way to play against a packed defence is for quick passing and transition in the final part of the pitch. England were slow and laboured. How many clear cut chances did they create?
By in large, we know the team that Roy Hodgson will play against Iceland. The two fullbacks, Kyle Walker and Danny Rose will return. The midfield will be a 3 of Eric Dier, Wayne Rooney and Dele Alli. Harry Kane will most likely be recalled as the main forward. Adam Lallana will start on the left and Daniel Sturridge will replace Raheem Sterling and start on the right.
Jamie Vardy will most likely have to settle for a place on the bench, and he will be hoping to make an impact like he did against Wales.
Iceland will look to play a 4-4-2, aiming to counter-attack. They will be happy to play on the back foot, absorb the pressure and then break whenever England give the ball away. They will be on a high after the 94th minute winner to send them through to the Last 16 stage.
There will be a big battle in midfield. Rooney will have to shake off pressure from Aron Gunnarson, a hard working, tenacious and always running midfielder. He is used to playing in the Championship so will be fierce in his contest against Rooney, trying to stop Rooney from dictating the tempo.
Eric Dier will have to cope with the clever movement and passing of Gylfi Sigurdsson. Sigurdsson has terrific movement, and a wonderful technique. England will have to make sure he is unable to control things for Iceland.
If as expected Iceland play with a packed defence, opting for a conservative approach, the onus will be on England’s attacking midfielders to open up the gaps with short, sharp passing.
They need overlapping runs from Walker and Rose. They need to start fiercely attacking the Iceland goal. They need to try and take more shots from outside the area. England so far have been trying to be too clever and pass the ball into the net.
They need to become assassins. Ruthless and cold in front of goal.
England should learn from the way Germany played against Slovakia. There was a quick tempo, clever movement and space created for the attackers. In knockout games, England often play with pressure and with a complex. They need to learn from Germany.
Germany play with confidence bordering on arrogance. They believe they are better than the opposition. They want to teach the opposition a footballing lesson – as they did against Slovakia.
England, whilst respecting the strengths of Iceland, should adopt a similar mentality. They have the better players. They have the better bench strength. So they need to believe they can go out on Monday evening and obliterate the Iceland team.
All too often we see England players shrink under pressure. The lack of goals in this tournament so far suggests England are suffering from a mental block once again. They are nervous in front of goal and unable to perform. Against Iceland, we need to see a clinical performance from all players.
It is not just about the strikers scoring. Every player whether it be a defender or midfielder, has to believe they can score goals if they get the chances.
If things are not going well, Hodgson needs to be radical in his subs. Ross Barkley has not been used so far and he is someone who is- as Slaven Bilic says – a ‘joker’ in the pack. He can provide something different and a moment of magic.
Hodgson should be afraid to experiment with a Plan B in the game, by bringing on John Stones to play up front if England are chasing the game.
Hodgson should be bold and pick Marcus Rashford if he feels he can offer something different. England should look to dominate. This does not mean being reckless by throwing 10 players forward at every set piece.
It means the midfielders being clever and picking the right moments to flood the box. It means good, quality balls into the box from the fullbacks. The best way to play against a 4-4-2 is to get in behind by stretching the play and moving the Iceland fullbacks out of position.
For England to have any hope of winning this competition, they cannot just be satisfied with a victory over Iceland, they need to send a message that England have arrived at Euro 2016.
This is tournament football. All too often England have not achieved what they should have. They have been weak and stumbled through even against the smaller teams. This England team needs to put it right.
There is enough technical quality. Do England have the mental stability to perform as well as they should?