After England secured a hard-fought 1-0 win over 10-man Portugal at Wembley, we outline five things we learned ahead of the Euro 2016 campaign.
1. There’s nothing dire about Dier
Eric Dier is England’s most important player. It has been widely noted that he could be required in central defence should England suffer injuries there – but the balance he brings to the team from defensive midfield is even more vital.
He reads play and counters attacking threats like the most natural of holding midfielders – and has done so more consistently than any other England international since Nicky Butt. In front of a vulnerable defence, his importance cannot be underestimated.
2. Vardy can make more of an impact
Jamie Vardy is most effective as an impact substitute. The forward’s willingness to pull wide, as is a requirement of the ‘diamond’ formation, is to his credit, but he requires more than that to justify a place in the starting XI over Raheem Sterling or Daniel Sturridge.
England are not set up to play to his strengths in the same way as Leicester, exposing him as one-paced, one-dimensional, and limiting his effectiveness. His speed and directness from the substitutes’ bench would make him ideal from the 60-minute mark, if required.
3. Quintet spurred on by Hodgson
Roy Hodgson is trying to create ‘Club England’.
At the 2014 World Cup, the manager used the spine provided by Liverpool of Glen Johnson, Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Sterling and Sturridge.
Two years on it is Tottenham’s Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Dier, Dele Alli and Harry Kane.
It may not have worked two years ago, but it makes perfect sense, particularly amid Hodgson’s limited time with his players – Tottenham have had a fine season and the understanding between those players could be key.
4. Diamond needs a cutting edge
England lack a focal point with the ‘diamond’ formation. With the two starting strikers, Kane and Vardy, clearly instructed to pull wide to provide the width England’s midfield lacks, and Wayne Rooney operating from a deeper role at the tip of midfield, there were times when potential counter-attacks were undermined by not having a central option deep into the final third.
That is perhaps no problem if starting the right players – but Hodgson’s line-up excluded some of his more cultured footballers.
5. Patience a virtue for Hodgson’s England
Hodgson has built a patient, flexible team. England need to further improve, but they showed themselves to be more than the one-paced side they have often appeared in the past.
Even with the one-man advantage provided by Bruno Alves’ red card, they refused to relentlessly pursue goals and stretch their opposition, showing a willingness to instead retain possession in the way they will need to if they are to prove a serious threat at Euro 2016.