Playing out a bore draw after altering a winning team by making six changes, it was predictable that blame would be apportioned to Roy Hodgson’s changed XI for the stalemate with Slovakia.
With news that Wayne Rooney would drop to the bench with Raheem Sterling and Tottenham quartet Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Kyle Walker and Danny Rose, panic spread like wildfire through the England fan base and media prior to the final Group B clash.
Bizarrely, a rare sensible move from the England manager in freshening up his team and dropping underperformers as a warning for the rest of the tournament, was viewed as a ‘dangerous’ and ‘risky’ move among the masses.
But in reality, only two of those dropped – full-backs Walker and Rose who have really impressed in France so far as first choice options – can feel hard done by in being benched, with the others all failing to fire.
So with the full-back duo and four passengers making way, the quality that Hodgson introduced was actually wholly positive, especially with the changes actually giving his side a better balance and a stronger starting team in Saint Ettiene.
Nathaniel Clyne and Ryan Bertrand provided adequate if unspectacular alternatives, but in midfield, Jack Wilshere and in particular Jordan Henderson’s inclusions were good moves for ball-playing and energy purposes, displayed with the Liverpool midfielder influence during the first-half.
Meanwhile, starting Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge was certainly the right decision from Hodgson, with Sterling and Kane having exposed themselves as distinctly average footballers during the competition to date.
So selection wise – bar the full-backs as stated – Hodgson’s decision to rotate and actually improve his team’s ball retention and purpose as a result was commendable. The six changes certainly were not the reason behind the draw.
What was, however, was a combination of the 4-3-3 set-up he lined his team up in and his substitutions during a poor second period which reflected the uninspiring switches.
With the personnel named in the XI – which saw saviours against Wales, Vardy and Sturridge, included – Hodgson simply had to deploy a 4-4-2 diamond system, and operate with a strike partnership.
Instead, he refused to budge from his recently preferred 4-3-3 and used Sturridge, the best striker at his disposal, from a restrictive wide-right role, which hindered the Liverpool striker’s influence and impacted on service to should-be strike partner, Vardy.
The Leicester man was starved of supply for the most part – other than one great ball from the incoming Henderson in the first-half – and lacked the support from a strike partner to distract defenders like that he enjoyed at the King Power Stadium for the champions last season.
With Lallana playing from the left, albeit freely, Hodgson made a huge error in not switching shape and playing the Liverpool attacking midfielder behind his club teammate Sturridge and Vardy in support of a strike duo.
Seeing his side struggle to break the stubborn Slovakian defence down – as a result of square pegs in round holes in attack – the England manager eventually switched to the set-up he should have started with during the second period.
But it proved too little too late, as with the substitutes made – introducing Rooney, Alli and Kane – balance was lost and the personnel failed to properly suit the system, showed as England’s impressive first-half fluidity quickly froze with the arrivals disrupting momentum.
Though substitute Alli came close to nicking a winner, seeing his effort cleared off the line by Martin Skrtel, the Three Lions ran out of time and were forced to settle for a point only enough to finish second in Group B behind rivals, Wales.
Once again this tournament, mismanagement from Hodgson cost England what should have been a straightforward three points; that being his poor system and substitutions – not his six selection changes.
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