England’s heavy reliance on Man City players at Euro 2012
"Hart, Lescott and Milner will be key in determining England’s success"
June 13th, 2012
Manchester City’s presence at Euro 2012 extends to six players – Joe Hart (above), Joleon Lescott, James Milner, Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy and Nigel de Jong. This total would have been more but for the late injury to Gareth Barry and both Lescott and Nasri have already made their mark on the tournament, both getting on the scoresheet in the 1-1 draw between France and England.
Whilst five of the six featured in their respective countries opening games – only Gael Clichy failed to see any action – it looks clear from the first round that England will have a heavy reliance on the City trio. This is no way to diminish the roles of the other participants; in fact Samir Nasri shone in the game against England, roaming in from out wide in tandem with Franck Ribery (and was involved in six scoring chances) and de Jong was his usual presence alongside Mark van Bommel for the Dutch.
What was clear though was that in the system and approach that England deploy, Hart, Lescott and Milner will be key in determining England’s success and in determining whether they progress into the knockout stages.
Under Roy Hodgson England in many ways have gone ‘back to basics’. Whereas the talk around the tournament has been about Spain not starting a striker, Italy’s 3-5-2 and the fluidity and inter-play of the 4-2-3-1, England stuck very much to the tried and tested (but with debatable success) 4-4-2. This has been the hallmark of Hodgson’s recent managerial ethos, two tight banks of four and happy to cede possession and territory to the opposition and look to attack on the counter.
To an extent this worked well against the French. England were compact and obdurate and largely controlled the central areas outside the penalty area in the 20-25 yard distance from goal and blocked ten shots (of 12 in total) in this area. Here, the compact and obdurate central midfield and defensive partnerships worked well. Less well though was their lack of ability to thwart France in the wide areas and as mentioned above, both Nasri and Ribery enjoyed a good degree of success.
This does mean that England will likely see a repeat of this in their games against Ukraine and Sweden and the performances of Hart and Lescott will be crucial from a defensive standpoint as England’s system points to a repeat of conceding chances from these wider areas. Hart in particular will once again see a number of shots – compare his numbers from the game to that of opposite number Hugo Lloris – whilst Lescott’s threat from set pieces will continue to be an attacking option England rely heavily upon.
The role of Milner is an interesting one. A victim of the perception that he is a player of little more than industry and workrate; he has been pegged (once again) for a wide midfield role. Although he had an early opportunity that he put wide from a tight angle, given England’s poor attacking numbers against France there will be a greater expectation upon him to contribute in this sense and provide more sustained support for the front pair – once again likely to be the Manchester United duo of Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck. But, you do sense that his deployment will be that more of a ‘preventer’ than a ‘creator’ and both he and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may need to be called upon even further in restricting the opposition from the danger areas.
This will particularly be true given the performances of the sides in the group’s other opening game – Ukraine defeating Sweden 2-1 – evidence that both of England’s remaining opponents are capable of creating chances, and crucially in the areas that could hurt England.
England may talk of a bolder, more attacking style but with Hodgson preaching the team ethic yet it is clear that he has very much in favour of defence-first approach for him meaning that the trio from City again have an important part to play in determining the extent of executing England’s game plan.
Written by Danny Puglsey, find him on Twitter @Danny_pugsley