After the procession that was qualification for Euro 2016, England’s true metal will be better tested in friendlies against established football powers Spain and France, with all eyes on Roy Hodgson’s selection.
England’s manager has responded well to the debacle that was last summer’s World Cup campaign under his stewardship, by marching the Three Lions to the Euros in record fashion.
Nevertheless, even a 100 per cent winning record over 10 matches is a little misleading given the glaring lack of quality opposition faced, so anyone tempted into backing England at 11/1 for glory next summer may be wise to wait until after these yardstick games.
Whatever the results turn out to be, there are plenty of loose ends all over the pitch for Hodgson to tie up before taking his chosen 23-man squad across the channel in eight months time.
Here are five questions Hodgson might hope to glean answers to over England’s final fixtures of 2015:
What is his best centre-half pairing?
Having made Gary Cahill his vice-captain during qualification and using the experienced defender in most crucial games since the World Cup, the Chelsea man appears to be Hodgson’s first choice centre-back.
However, his severe dip in form is mirrored by the Blues’ collective malaise this season, casting doubts over his place. Chris Smalling’s exceptional form for Manchester United makes him the de facto first choice, while the class of John Stones is arguably the perfect foil for the Red Devil’s more physical approach.
Is Jamie Vardy worthy of holding down a place?
It will be tricky for Leicester’s whirlwind striker to keep one eye off the Premier League record he is on the cusp of equalling, but he must take his chances this time around. Vardy has failed to score in four caps to date, despite getting 90 minutes against San Marino, so even his molten hot streak cannot keep him in the team unless he proves he can translate that form to the international stage.
What is his best formation?
To a certain extent this can depend on personnel, but having a plan A formation going into a tournament is paramount if players are to feel comfortable in their roles. England’s best displays over the course of qualification came when Hodgson deployed a diamond midfield with two strikers. However, he has been known to adopt the 4-3-3.
Will Michael Carrick have any role to play?
The seasoned United midfielder is many people’s preferred choice to set England’s tempo from deep, but he has seldom been Hodgson’s man. Picked sporadically for his country, it will be very interesting to see if his presence in the squad is to make up numbers in light of injuries or a genuine reward for his form. The acid test will be whether or not he starts either match, or if Tottenham’s Eric Dier gets the nod ahead of him.
Could Jack Butland realistically take the number one spot?
Joe Hart’s principle understudy has arguably been the outstanding goalkeeper in the Premier League this season. The Stoke stopper has received rave reviews from pundits and calls for Butland to start one if not both friendliess have increased. If he was to showcase his form on the international stage then Hodgson might just have a decision to make before the Euros surrounding his number one.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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