Monday, June 11, 2012

MONDAY .....


Never has an England team come into a major football championship with the level of expectation at home so low, almost no one expects them to get beyond the quarters let alone win and coach Roy Hodgson and his squad approach the game with something of an underdog mentality .

Hodgson almost never changes from his beloved 4-4-2 and likes two very solid banks of four and to try and get the ball to the front two as quickly as possible, although that doesn't mean long ball football, but that might well be an option if they fall behind and/or Andy Carroll is introduced. There have not been many matches between the two near "neighbours" in recent years, the last was at Wembley 18 months ago when the French, in one of Laurent Blanc's first matches in charge, gave England a footballing lesson. The only problems the home side gave Les Bleus that night came via big target man Carroll and, when he was introduced later, the even taller Peter Crouch, who scored England's goal, the French were said to be concerned about this and breathed a little easier when they realised that Hodgson was going with Young and Welbeck as his front two, of course, he will have the option of introducing Carroll at some stage. Wayne Rooney is suspended for the first two matches.

The English approach is clear, Downing and Milner wide and they have been picked for their defensive capabilities, Hodgson said " you have to be aware of the array of talent going forward, they are great in the final third, the main thing is to nullify the threat they create around our penalty area." At the back, England look fairly solid but JohnTerry and the left footed Joleon Lescott both want to play on the left of central defence, with the Chelsea player a liability on the right.

The weather might well be an issue, it is far hotter in the Ukraine than in Poland where England are based and whilst it might be down to 29-30 degrees by kickoff, that could still be an issue and the English approach of"It will be the same for both teams and it's very important that we don't put too much emphasis on it,"is in stark contrast to the French who will don Cyro Jackets, containing eight pockets which can be filled with ice to cool the body down, at half time and have been using a cryotherapy chamber in build up and look thoroughly prepared.

Hodgson has not been given much help to be honest, the base in Poland was chosen by Capello, it is almost 1,000 miles away from Donetsk where they play today and conditions are very different, he also wants to play a certain way and has been given too little time to "educate" the squad, having only been in charge for 40 days and he has spent half that time getting a hard time from the gutter press over his "speech impediment " . Injuries to Lampard, Cahill, Barry and others, plus the Rooney suspension have done him few favours either.  Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Carroll do at least give him options from the bench and the first two named along with Young and Welbeck do have the pace to trouble and get in behind this French backline, especially if Les Bleus get a little too confident.

You already know that I like the chances of this French squad, they are unbeaten in 21 starts and they are a "good age" with 17 of the 23 man squad, the "perfect" international age of 25-30, the three older players Malouda, Evra and Reveillere are only just  outside this bracket, are hugely experienced at Champions League level and have some 140 caps between them. Coach Laurent Blanc made restoring confidence a priority after the Raymond Domenech debacle and has done that with a bit of a swagger. They don't have huge defensive options, especially in the centre and can get caught out by playing too high a line a times and that could happen today, with England set to give up a lot of possession. They are strongest in midfield where they have a wealth of riches and maybe too many options, they like to play with the ball and England will give it to them.

I see a draw or French win, either would suit our outright saver bet on Les Bleus, so no real need to get overly involved, if forced to pick, I would have to suggest that the draw at 3.15 on the exchanges now offers the best value .
Good Luck.

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