Let’s make one thing clear – England played extremely well on Saturday night and the only thing missing from our game was the ability to kill the Russians off. They offered very little in the attacking third of the pitch and I really don’t think we should have done much differently on the night. The problem for England is that we just don’t have an Adams or a Pearce, or even a Gary Neville to take charge and ensure that we give nothing away. Smalling and Cahill are solid defenders but they are not leaders and organisers in an old-school sense.
If we had brought on a Milner or Henderson to sure up the midfield and provide the defence with more protection earlier, it would have meant changing an approach that had worked so well up to that point – we had dominated the game. I would have liked to have seen Vardy start or brought on to help stretch the Russians further, but Roy has got his own ideas and to be fair it’s not as if we didn’t create plenty of chances.
My concern now is that teams like Germany, Croatia, Swiztzerland etc have already shown that they can close out games, and it’s something we need to learn to do very quickly if we are to progress in this tournament.
Wales played well on Saturday and they go into the England game on a real high, but I still think we should have too much for them, especially if we can cut off the supply to Gareth Bale. Bale has the class to hurt any team in the world, so it’s crucial that we press down the flanks and not allow their full-backs time on the ball.
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The only personnel change I can see Hodgson making for Thursday’s game is Raheem Sterling dropping to the bench. Sterling’s final ball has long been an issue and it resurfaced on Saturday night in Marseille. Roy has the option of playing Vardy out wide as he knows he’ll work tirelessly, or making us more compact by bringing in Wilshere, and allowing the full-backs to provide the width.
I was impressed with Croatia, I can see why plenty thought they were the best of the so-called ‘outsiders’ pre-tournament. Their midfield pair of Modric and Rakitic is just class and that duo just run the show. They have quality in the wide positions too - I like Perisic a lot, and they are now in a very strong position in Group D.
I was really disappointed with Northern Ireland’s tactics on Sunday afternoon, they were so negative. They started the game with five centre-backs on the pitch and even when they went 1-0 down their tactics didn’t change. Michael O’Neill said afterwards that they have got to do better, but he must know that his side can’t make any progress in this competition playing like that.
Payet’s goal for France was good enough to win any game, it was sensational, but I wasn’t overly impressed with the home nation in truth. The likes of Pogba and Griezmann are world class talent but great players do it on the biggest stage and neither of them shined on Friday. France’s big players need to step up to the plate if they are going to go all the way in this tournament.
Germany were just Germany, efficient without being overly impressive. I thought Ukraine played well and they can still qualify from that group, but Germany rarely peak in the early stages of a tournament and it could be ominous that they were still able to beat a good side 2-0 without being anywhere near their best.
All the best,