It is the end of May in a year with a major tournament and England have a new manager: hear the Three Lions roar! Watch the tabloids build them up! Listen to the fans tell everyone how England can win the Euros!
Er, except it’s not like that, is it? For the first time in living memory England are unburdened by expectation. You won’t hear anyone, least of all the usually unbearably hyperbolic tabloids, proclaiming England can win Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine next month. It makes for a wonderfully refreshing change.
A much-needed reality check seems to have been given to the nation, partly due to the obvious paucity of the squad compared to the main competitors (Stewart Downing is in the 23, for God’s sake) but also down to the new manager Roy Hodgson.
Like most England managers, Hodgson has problems going into the tournament, not least of all the suspension of Wayne Rooney for the first two group matches.
It says much about the state of English coaches that the former West Brom boss and Harry ‘one trophy in 30 years’ Redknapp were the front runners, but having gone for the ‘safe pair of hands’ (ask Liverpool fans how safe they actually are) Hodgson has managed to lower expectations before he has even taken charge of a match.
His first match in charge comes away against Norway on Saturday, a country where Hodgson spent a year of his nomadic career that led him to the Wembley dug-out. Like most England managers, Hodgson has problems going into the tournament, not least of all the suspension of Wayne Rooney for the first two group matches.
This uncertainty on its own means it is difficult to know exactly how Hodgson will play this friendly.
It perhaps accounts for why England are not odds-on, with bwin offering even money on Hodgson claiming a win in his debut match. Norway are 13/5 to spoil the party (although it’s probably more of a gathering) and the draw is 12/5.
Hodgson has always been a rigid 4-4-2 man (with the emphasis on rigid), but it is to his credit that he seems likely to go with a 4-2-3-1 formation rather than a shape that is outdated at international level. Andy Carroll is likely to get the nod in Rooney’s absence for the Norway test, but with Chelsea players not involved after last week’s Champions League final England will have something of a makeshift back four.
It makes a tricky trip all the more difficult. England have been good away from home since their humiliating defeat against Germany in the World Cup, posting a 4-1-0-12-4 record, but Norway have been very strong at home for some time.
Egil Olsen’s men have lost just one of their last 14 home games, a run which includes wins over France, Portugal and Montenegro, and they are no mugs on their own patch. With Hodgson’s innate cautiousness meaning he will be desperate to avoid defeat, not to mention the experimental nature of the line-up, it could be worth going against England and siding with the draw at 23/10.
Nobody loses face with a draw as long as lessons are learned, and if the match is level going into the latter stages a flurry of substitutions could disrupt the flow of the game. It is unlikely England will go all out late on either – they will be saving themselves for the real stuff on 11th June.
Recommended bet: Draw @ 12/5
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