There’s only so much a manager can learn from a low-key friendly against relatively weak competition, and as such, Hodgson can be pleased with the amount of information we can gather from the 90 minutes in Oslo.
Ashley Young is an outstanding number 10
For over a year Ashley Young was given a free-role at Villa, playing behind the striker. He was brilliant in this position, using his flair, technical grace and particularly astute movement and tactical awareness to dictate play. Finally an England coach has remembered this period of his career, and Young rewarded Hodgson with a man-of-the-match performance. Usually deployed as a winger, Young’s intelligence often goes unnoticed: he is not the average one dimensional wide player, however.
One aspect of his game relatively unknown is his movement and his instinctive anticipation. On many occasions he correctly and alertly made runs behind Andy Carroll, anticipating the knock-on. He managed to find pockets of space in front of the back four on several occasions, and won a large majority of the loose balls following Carroll’s flick-ons. The goal indicates this, with Young finding space for the pass, linking up well with the big Liverpool striker.
Carroll is frustrating and awkward, even when playing well
There’s something irritating about Andy Carroll. The clunkiness of his gait, his slow-motion agility, and the uncomfortable style with which he kicks a football, makes him look like a skilful player trapped in his own body. His touch is so clumsy, and his movement so effortful, he looks as if he’s only just acquired his awkward figure, and is still trying to work out how to control all the body parts. It looks a bit like when one of those ludicrously dressed mascots tries to kick a ball with their oversized mammalian limbs. Nevertheless, he won most of his aerial challenges and all-in-all played well with Young. The only reason this is an issue is because his ungainly figure is incongruous against the intelligence and fluidity of England’s midfield.
A pragmatic Hodgson chose intelligent midfielders, and it looked good
Before Gerrard was substituted, England’s midfield looked organised and controlled, with neat interplay and swift passing exchanges. Milner, Downing, Young and Gerrard are all very intelligent footballers. Their vision and tactical awareness are excellent, and they worked well in combination as a result. England’s attacks, spearheaded by the Carroll and Young partnership, were fluid, composed and thoughtful. ‘Careful’, might be a word to describe Hodgson’s managerial style with England, which is unsurprising given the limited time he has with an average set of players. His midfield, with defensively capable wingers and composed passers looked balanced and, dare I say it, confident.
Hodgson has a plan
What do Capello, McClaren, and Eriksson all have in common? We had no idea what on earth they were trying to do. England were perplexed and disorganised, looking for all the world like a bunch of eclectic players that had no idea what they were supposed to be doing, or how to play with each other. Finally England have a manager with a plan. As indicated above, with his intelligent and defence-minded midfielders and Carroll-Young partnership, any England fan can see that he is trying to build something. Swapping Walcott and Downing round in the second half after Theo proved he was incapable of defending Riise, was possibly the first sensible, understandable, substitution made by an England manager for some time.
International football is boring
If the World Cup wasn’t enough evidence to prove this point, then this summers Euros may finally make us switch off the TV and take up staring at brick walls instead. It seems as if every team plays cautious, defensive football in major tournaments, quite possibly a reflection of the current stage of tactical evolution in Europe. The 4-5-1-come-4-3-3 is favoured by the majority of sides, allowing an attacking formation to easily become one with nine defenders and an isolated striker, requiring slow build-up play and possession football. The most obvious reason for the lack of excitement in international football is that there is simply no team chemistry. Given only a small amount of time to play with each other, we cannot expect instinctive football from any nation. Either way, if you expect to be entertained this summer, don’t hold your breath. If England remain organised, defence-minded, and can keep possession with intelligent midfielders whilst organising attacks around a little-n-large strike partnership, you never know what they can achieve.