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Thursday Hoddle of Coffee, Soccer News and Notes, March 23, 2017

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England lost but didn’t look terrible?

Germany v England - International Friendly Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Yesterday we had a fun discussion in the Carty Free Slack about how the English national team ought to have lined up against Germany yesterday. I’m curious to hear what the Hoddlers think. Here’s my best XI given this particular England squad:

Hart
Dier, Keane, Cahill
Walker, Ward-Prowse, Livermore, Bertrand
Dele, Vardy, Lallana

With this lineup, you pretty much have to plan on playing off the counter. So you need at least one halfway decent passer in the back three—thus dropping Smalling for Dier. You also need a passer in the midfield and Ward-Prowse is the closest thing England has. (Until Harry Winks is called up, of course.)

Once the ball gets into the front three, the trio of Dele, Jamie Vardy, and Adam Lallana should do really well for you. You just have to get the ball up to them.

What do y’all think? I imagine you could probably replicate this with something closer to a best English XI that looks more like this:

Hart
Dier, Smalling, Stones
Walker, Henderson, Livermore, Rose
Dele, Kane, Lallana

Idea here is simple: You play this basically like the Tottenham 3-4-3. Smalling sits deep and mops up the messes. Dier and Stones have defensive responsibilities but are also expected to be deep passers to spring counters. Walker and Rose do Walker and Rose things. Hendo runs around doing his best Dembele impression while Livermore runs around and breaks things like Wanyama. Then your front three has Dele and Kane in their normal roles while Lallana has the Eriksen role—which is basically the role he did play for Pochettino at Southampton anyway.

Thoughts? The big hitch here would be that midfield two. Tottenham’s system works because Wanyama covers more ground than any midfielder not named N’Golo Kante and because Mousa Dembele is world-class in ways that no other player in the world is. If Livermore can do half of what Wanyama does and Henderson’s energy can fill out the rest of Wanyama’s running and provide even some box-to-box threat, then they might be more or less OK. Everything else looks more promising, provided Stones doesn’t kill you with defensive gaffes. The front three would be very good and Dier and Stones are great deep passers for those wide center back roles.

Another option, of course, would be to go with a more straight forward 4-4-2:

Hart
Walker, Smalling, Dier, Rose
Sterling, Henderson, Livermore, Lallana
Dele, Kane

In this setup, you basically play a classic English 4-4-2 with a couple modest twists:

  • Lallana plays as a narrow winger who often tucks into midfield to support Hendo and Livermore while Rose surges ahead to provide width.
  • Dele also has freedom to drop off to receive the ball, sometimes making the shape more of a 4-4-1-1.
  • Sterling is basically asked to play like a wide forward in a 4-3-3 and Walker is trusted to provide defensive cover, which is pace should allow him to do.
  • Kane does normal Kane things, which means he comes deep, receives the ball, and looks for some quick interchanges with Sterling, Lallana, and Dele.

The danger with this system would be that the midfield is still too open. But I don’t think I see an obvious fix there. England simply doesn’t have a Wanyama- or Kante-type midfielder who can run for days and cover every blade of grass in the center of the park.

(If you wanted to, you could easily argue that England should be doing some sort of 4-3-3 with a midfield of Hendo-Dier-Dele playing behind a front three of Sterling, Kane, and Lallana. In that scenario, Dier sits deep as he did for most of last season while Hendo and Dele have more attacking roles. But I’m not sure Dier has the range to do that sort of role well, which is why I haven’t suggested it as a primary option.)

Given that limitation, playing a low-block 4-4-2 set up to counter seems the way to go. (For that reason you could argue that Vardy is to be preferred to Kane up top, but I think Kane is far enough ahead of Vardy as an overall player that you probably should stick with him.)

Anyway, enough speculation. How did you feel about yesterday’s game? What is a good system going forward for the Three Lions?

Links:

Ex-Arsenal players Aleksandar Hleb and Andrei Arshavin met in a behind-closed-doors friendly recently. That is definitely not an occasion for a totally delightful piece about what might have been at Arsenal.

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