How to beat France: Hodgson’s Five Point Plan
Posted on June 3, 2012 by Joe Plewes
Anyone who has watched England in their two warm-up matches must surely have an inkling as to how the Three Lions are going to play against the French on Monday. Roy Hodgson’s 4-4-1-1 has proven to be a slight variation on his Fulham (and indeed career) theme, with England lining up in two neat banks of four, suffocating space and being difficult to beat rather than expansive.
Indeed, England’s final Wembley workout saw Belgium’s neat movement and fluid passing impressively negated by Hodgson’s compact England – a welcome morale boost before France’s similar set up rolls into Donetsk. Firstly, let’s have a look at how the two sides are expected to line up:
If we look at that French line up first, the major points of contention are at left-back, centre half and for one of the front three spaces. Patrice Evra’s appalling performance against Iceland – ranked 131st in the world– has perhaps knocked him behind Gaël Clichy in the pecking order.
The Manchester United full back let Birkir Bjarnason’s get goal side for Iceland’s opener, and was then caught out far too easily by a swift counter attack for their second. Clichy was then given the nod for France’s second warm up game against Serbia, playing next to Phillipe Mexès.
Which perhaps brings us onto the second selection issue for Les Bleus, as the thirty-year-old centre half appears to be rather undercooked. The Auxerre graduate only made fourteen league appearances for Milan last season and has been exposed in France’s last two fixtures, leaving the door slightly ajar for Laurent Koscielny. It remains to be seen if the Arsenal stopper comes in alongside Adil Rami on that basis.
In midfield, Yann M’Vila’s injury against Serbia appears to have ruled him out of contention, propelling Alou Diarra into the anchorman role. Yoan Cabaye seems certain to add to his twelve caps, while Florent Malouda was in rather more sparkling form against Serbia than he has been recently for the other ‘blues’.
The only other area of debate then, is France’s front three. Karim Benzema will lead the line having well and truly found his feet at the Bernabéu and Franck Ribéry will hope to finally replicate his Bayern form coming off the left flank. However, Sami Nasri is yet to convince the French public of his worth on the right hand side.
The former Arsenal playmaker has been criticised for slowing down the pace of France’s attacks, although Laurent Blanc may want to keep faith with Nasri- as he fired Les Bleus into the tournament itself with his pressure penalty against Bosnia. The French are certainly not without options in that position though, with Jérémy Ménez and Hatem Ben Arfa both offering Blanc more direct, pacy options.
The Three Lions pick themselves slightly more than the French, although injuries have perhaps made Hodgson’s decision easier. Gary Cahill’s absence following Dries Mertens’ cynical push will not have been welcomed however, while England are sweating over John Terry’s fitness having sacrificed the Chelsea captain against Belgium. Joleon Lescott will deputise, while Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson are sure to start at full back.
In midfield, Gerrard and Parker will continue to patrol across the middle, whilst Milner looks certain to continue in his industrious right flank role. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s lively cameo against the Belgians was promising, although it stopped short of the show stopping heights perhaps required to gain a starting berth.
One burst past Axel Witsel perhaps showed why he may eventually be deployed centrally, and it is indisputable that the young Arsenal starlet will start many games in the future. This summer may be too soon however, and two seasons learning his craft under the tutelage of Arsène Wenger are likely to iron out any immaturity and promote him to a key role.
In Donetsk however, Hodgson may well risk the ire of England supporters by selecting much-maligned Liverpool winger Stewart Downing out on the left. While the wide man has had his fair share of detractors following an inconspicuous debut season at Anfield, it would be fair to say that his tally of zero assists is perhaps less down to his lack of crossing and more due to the profligacy of Liverpool’s attack.
If Hodgson does plump with Carroll ahead of Welbeck, Downing’s wide play may be more of an asset than three lions’ fans expect – and we did get a glimpse of that as he sauntered into opposition territory before delivering a devilish cross that Andy Carroll headed wide.
Which leads us to the final debate, Welbeck v Carroll. I suspect as France monopolise the ball in Donetsk with their fluid 4-3-3, Carroll may get the nod as a useful get out ball to prevent England’s suffocation. Hodgson is reported to have exclaimed during training “You don’t have to use short passes, not if you use your big man.”
Not a statement pleasurable to the ears of those versed in Barcelona’s tiki-taka, but a style of play that may complement England’s 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 in a very Fulham/ Bobby Zamora type way. Danny Welbeck’s niggly ankle problem might also make the decision easier.
Five Key Areas
1. TROUBLING MEXÈS
If England are to win on Monday, attacking the underwhelming Phillipe Mexès is an absolute must. The former Roma defender was given a torrid time by Iceland last week but is still expected to start ahead of Laurent Koscielny – a move likely to provoke optimism within the England camp.
The Young/ Carroll combination is certainly one that can expose the French stopper, especially as he is neither blessed with the pace of young or the aerial prowess of Carroll. If Andy Carroll can find some of his FA Cup Final form, in which he truly bullied John Terry, expect Mexès to leave Donetsk battered and bruised.
2. UTILISING THE VERSATILITY OF ASHLEY YOUNG
For all the talk of Hodgson’s rigidity, in Ashley Young he possesses a forward, a number ten and a winger who can play on either side. France’s fullbacks in their narrower 4-3-3 will need to be pegged back by a combination of Milner, Downing and Young, so expect the United flyer to pull wide and attempt to find plenty of space in his free role.
Likewise, France’s central midfield three will expect to monopolise possession against the industrious but outnumbered combination of Parker and Gerrard. The onus is thus on the England number ten to drop in and help out, preventing the French suffocating the life out of Three Lions’ midfield four.
It goes without saying really, but set pieces are vital if England are to take all three points on Monday. The selection of Carroll boosts England’s aerial prowess somewhat, and when you take into account the fact England mustered just one shot on target against Belgium, you know how important good delivery in dead ball situations is likely to be.
France’s slightly cobbled together back line, with doubts over selection at left back, Debuchy deputising for Sagna on the right and a smaller side overall featuring Nasri, Cabaye, Ribery etc. is surely exploitable in the air.
4. SETTING THE FULL BACKS FREE
Whether Blanc selects Nasri or Ben Arfa alongside Benzema and Ribery, it is vital England pin back France’s wide men. Both Johnson and Ashley Cole will thus be set with the task of turning their opponents round and making them think backwards.
This is something none of France’s attacking options are particularly comfortable with. And Milner in particular is adept at filling in as well as helping his defence, so full back is one area where Hodgson ought to allow his players slightly extra creative freedom.
5. INJECTING PACE
Danny Welbeck’s opener against Belgium provided a blueprint for how England must approach Monday’s game. Hodgson’s banks of four soaked up Belgium’s pressure, before a marauding Gerrard pick pocketed Moussa Dembélé. Young and Welbeck did the rest, and it’s that kind of smash and grab England must look for if they are to trouble the French.
While Carroll may well start, the option of the United youngster remains, along with Theo Walcott and wildcard Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The latter two are perfect for troubling France’s full-backs while Welbeck can offer a different threat for France’s centre half pairing.
Can England set that five point plan in motion? Do you think Hodgson will select the line up above? Either way, England are slight underdogs @ 2.95 on Oddslife, while under 2.5 goals is @ 1.53 in what will be an edgy opening contest in Donetsk. Make your own FREE Match Prediction for this game!