Here at news.bwin.com/en/, we went into some detail as to how Cesc Fabregas’ arrival at Chelsea means Jose Mourinho now has the tools at his disposal to implement the ‘perfect’ 4-2-3-1 formation, following their highly indicative Premier League opening-day win at Burnley.
Lessons from the Portuguese should be heeded by England boss Roy Hodgson as he embarks on his post-Brazil Three Lions rebuild, first in a Wembley friendly against Norway before travelling to Switzerland for their opening fixture of Euro 2016 qualifying.
Hodgson’s charges are 9/20 to see off the former, which their record in post-tournament fixtures since the turn of the last century suggests is a banker (Click here), while the 67-year-old making a winning return to the country he managed through the 1994 World Cup is priced at a slightly more sober 8/5.
Fabregas is operating as Chelsea’s creative force in a two-man midfield alongside crack anchorman Nemanja Matic, with three from energetic quartet Oscar, Eden Hazard, Andre Schurrle and Willian in front and deadly Diego Costa up top.
Mourinho’s capture of France forward Loic Remy means the Portuguese has even more in his armoury to attack the rest of the Premier League with this term. They’re currently 4/5, in from 6/4 when this piece (Click here) was published, having claimed a maximum nine points and 11 goals so far.
Having a do-everything player like Fabregas in the centre of the park means the Special One can deploy a World Cup-hardened forward quartet without swapping pace and dynamism for creativity in the number ten role.
New Spurs coach Mauricio Pochettino has shaped as if to emulate this approach in his short tenure so far at White Hart Lane, with tricky-yet-relatively-laboured Dane Christian Eriksen’s creative talents shoved out wide in favour of utilising nominal winger Erik Lamela through the middle.
Despite Hodgson making a raft of changes to the starting XI that lined up against Italy in their World Cup opening-fixture defeat, with John Stones, Phil Jones, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere all in and expected to keep their places for the Switzerland game, England look likely to stick by 4-2-3-1.
This is the correct move, as while some seasoned football watchers – such as Craig Kemp on these pages (Click here) – advocate a switch to a Liverpool-style diamond formation, England just do not have the players at their disposal to make such a system work.
Liverpool coach Brendan Rodgers’ strategy relies on wing-backs covering the flanks, centre-halves forming a high line and three midfielders in Jordan Henderson, who will start for England, plus Steven Gerrard and Joe Allen, who will not.
Disregard the fact that retired England captain Gerrard has palpably struggled against noted attacking talent over the past six months; the Three Lions don’t even have a third midfielder of Allen’s quality to carry out the high-energy water-carrying the Welshman gets through at Anfield.
Rodgers has added young Spanish duo Javier Manquillo and Alberto Moreno to wing-back ranks that already included Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique, whereas England will play Everton’s Stones – probably the Premier League’s most impressive new centre-half in the second half of last season – on the opposite side to clubmate Leighton Baines.
There’s no doubt the Toffees pair will support Hodgson’s attack against Per-Mathias Hogmo’s side, especially as the Three Lions’ wings will be clipped in a narrow 4-2-3-1, but neither will offer as much width as Liverpool’s former La Liga pair, who will have spent their teenage years bursting forward in Atletico Madrid and Sevilla’s academies.
In these circumstances, and with Henderson and Wilshere picked as the midfield two, Hodgson must ape the Mourinho tactic of relying on his centre-of-the-park pairing for most of England’s creativity, while ensuring the ‘3’ directly in front are loaded with as much speed, dynamism and energy as possible.
This means playing Sterling in the nominal number ten role, with Oxlade-Chamberlain tucked in at left-forward and Sturridge on the right, where the former Chelsea and Manchester City man constantly ends up under Rodgers, including when starting the move that led to Liverpool’s first goal in the recent 3-0 win at Spurs.
All three are 25-years-old or younger, like Chelsea’s attacking-midfield quartet, and each of them possesses bundles of pace with which to attack patchwork international backlines these fixtures tend to feature (just look at England’s).
Obviously this means playing Rooney as a lone frontman, which Hodgson has been reluctant to do, despite the new captain’s occasional excellence when deployed as such.
Rooney’s joint-most prolific season at Manchester Utd came about when playing up front on his own, during a 2009/10 campaign which saw the 28-year-old notch 34 times in 44 all-competition matches, while in his other big-hitting term (34 in 43 2011/12 fixtures) he had wide-forward Danny Welbeck as a regular partner.
This setup may lack the proven world-class personnel that Chelsea boast, but England’s clear dearth of talent in depth means Hodgson has plenty of scope for experiment over the next two-four years.
If enough creativity cannot be squeezed out of Wilshere and Henderson, then either one could realistically be replaced by Rooney as the qualifying campaign progresses, with England seemingly short of midfield options but bursting from the seams in attack.
Welbeck, Liverpool’s Adam Lallana and Southampton’s Jay Rodriguez are just three of many forwards set to compete for further international honours as the road to France gathers pace and with plenty of interchangeable options in attack, the dual skipper may end up in a position more befitting his new role for club and country.
That’s unlikely to happen for a while though, with Rooney priced up at evens, alongside Sturridge on the same odds, to bag his 41st Three Lions goal at any time in north west London, which would see the Croxteth native move to within eight of Sir Bobby Charlton’s long-standing England record strike-haul.
Sturridge is the narrow 7/2 favourite to notch the opener ahead of his on-field leader at 15/4, although Sterling has to be the value pick in this market at 7/1, as the 19-year-old has opened the scoring in two of Liverpool’s three Premier League fixtures so far this term.