Hodgson plays the numbers game
Roy Hodgson has released the numbers behind England's Euro 2012 plans - and now has one more game to negotiate before slotting the final pieces into place.
Liverpool striker Andy Carroll may take some encouragement from his sudden increasing importance to the England manager's strategy for Poland and Ukraine by being handed the number nine shirt when the Football Association handed in its final squad on Tuesday.
In Wayne Rooney's absence through suspension, Carroll looks certain to start alongside Manchester United's Ashley Young in attack when England open their campaign against France in Donetsk on 11 June after their promising link-up in Saturday's 1-0 win in Norway.
Hodgson's defence is also taking shape with the Chelsea-centric back four of Ashley Cole, John Terry and Gary Cahill augmented by Liverpool's Glen Johnson if he is fit.
Scott Parker (left) and Steven Gerrard (right) led the midfield against Norway. Photo: Getty
This leaves Hodgson with the midfield conundrum and the personnel he will fit into what was a very rigid 4-4-2 formation in Oslo and which looks to be the template for England’s way forward under the 64-year-old.
It is a system that had his predecessor Fabio Capello condemned as tactically prehistoric in the game’s modernising era but England showed early signs of a willingness to embrace the tactical discipline Hodgson demands from his team.
Steven Gerrard, reinstated as captain under Hodgson, and Scott Parker took the central midfield places in Oslo – leaving them in pole position to face France, to the exclusion of Chelsea’s Champions League winner Frank Lampard.
Lampard is unlikely to listen to such talk of defeat surrounding his place and he will attempt to make a strong impression on Hodgson if he gets the chance against Belgium at Wembley on Saturday.
Finding a way of combining Lampard and Gerrard has become an age-old dilemma for England managers stretching as far back as Sven-Goran Eriksson and only time will tell if Hodgson feels he can find the solution.
And the tactical and professional maturity displayed by Lampard in extremis as Chelsea came under siege from first Barcelona then Bayern Munich in the Champions League demonstrated once more that he is not ready to go quietly.
Hodgson appears locked in to a 4-4-2 shape, which means the 4-2-3-1 formation which could allow him to play Parker, Gerrard and Lampard is not at the forefront of his thoughts.
It would be stretching the reality to suggest England’s midfield worked like a well-oiled machine in Oslo, far from it, but Hodgson clearly saw enough to confirm his view that this will be his Euro 2012 route in Poland and Ukraine.
There was a lack of fluidity which led to Gerrard being unable to resist hitting high-risk long passes that often attract criticism – but in his defence he was trying to bring an air of the unexpected to England’s plan, albeit with mixed results.
Gareth Barry’s absence through injury robs Hodgson of an experienced player who would have been desperate to make amends for a disappointing World Cup campaign in South Africa in 2010 – when he carried an injury through the tournament.
Of more significance is the long-standing and damaging absence of Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, who could have provided Hodgson with the complete midfielder, a combination of industry and creative spark that would flourish at international level.
The decision to call up Everton’s Phil Jagielka ahead of Liverpool midfield man Jordan Henderson once Barry was ruled out, allows Hodgson to balance his squad with eight midfielders and eight defenders – with the option of pushing Manchester United youngster Phil Jones or Manchester City’s James Milner into the centre, as well as having Lampard at his disposal.
Milner, trusted by a succession of England managers, was used on the right flank in Oslo with Liverpool’s Stewart Downing used on the left but neither shone.
England’s use of possession, especially in the second half, was poor and is unlikely to go unpunished by better sides than Norway and the rigidity of the three lines was exposed as Milner and Downing were often pushed too deep by the opposing full-backs to be of full service to Hodgson.
When Rooney returns he will bring the natural instincts of someone who does not stick to these lines but is happy to work between them, which only emphasises his importance as England's main creator and someone Hodgson will rely on heavily.
Downing, as for much of the season at Liverpool, was disappointing and must show swift improvement to cement a place against France and then stand a chance of retaining it once Rooney is available.
Indeed, such was Downing’s lack of impact there may be the temptation to use the versatile Milner on the left and trust Theo Walcott on the right against France, while Young is likely to be restored to the flanks once Rooney is available against Ukraine.
These are questions Hodgson will be focusing his attention on. To give them context, the Norway game came after only three days of work with his new players - not enough time to put theories into perfect practice.
By the time France stand in opposition, Hodgson's famed drills and repetitions will hopefully have had the desired effect.