June 13, 2012

Roy Hodgson: England must improve in attacking areas

Face-painted England fans at the Euro 2012 fan zone in Donetsk
Roy Hodgson has challenged England's front players to deliver a better performance against Sweden on Friday before he can bring Wayne Rooney back into the team as the "ace in the hole".

Hodgson's satisfaction with the 1-1 draw with France was tempered by his team's lack of incision in forward positions during a game in which Ashley Young, assigned Rooney's position, managed only seven successful passes. The England manager also spoke of his concerns that Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker might struggle to last the pace of playing so many games in such a short amount of time, raising the possibility that Jordan Henderson might be called into the starting line-up if the team reach the knockout rounds.

However, Hodgson's priority will be to work on the team's composure in attack bearing in mind that Young, James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all misplaced more than half of their passes. Young and Oxlade-Chamberlain did not exchange a pass throughout the entire match. "It's in the final third, isn't it?" Hodgson replied when asked where he wanted to see improvement.

"Once or twice, especially in the first half, there were some very promising counter-attacks that broke down because we tried a one-touch pass to finish it off rather than taking that extra touch. I thought there were quite a few other attacks which floundered, I suppose, on the fact we didn't quite get the last pass right.

"The French were just the opposite. They don't play a lot of one-touch football around the penalty box. They play a lot of two, three touches, holding on to the ball and asking another question. Sometimes I think we want to try to finish it off too quickly, probably because that's the way the Premier League is like."

Ashley Young had an indifferent game during England's opening Euro 2012 match against France. Photograph: Stewart Kendall/Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar
Sweden's 2-1 defeat by Ukraine demonstrated a vulnerability in the air, with Andriy Shevchenko scoring twice with headers, but Hodgson said he was likely to continue with Danny Welbeck in attack rather than bringing in Andy Carroll. After that, Hodgson admitted it would be a relief when Rooney was available after his two-match suspension to play in England's final Group D game against Ukraine on Monday.

"Our real ace in the hole, I think, should be Wayne Rooney, because he is very fit and raring to go. He really can't wait to get on the field and if he can play like the Rooney we know, we're going to be a bit more difficult to beat for some of these teams, because you can only benefit from having someone of his quality in your team.

"But also you must remember that Ashley Young hasn't always played that position, and Danny Welbeck, who is 21, did really well. You've got to make allowances for the fact France had [Karim] Benzema, who is much older and playing for Real Madrid, and Samir Nasri. Maybe looking at them you can expect a bit more from them when they get in the final third than I can expect from our players at the moment."

His concern about Gerrard and Parker is based partly on the punishing heat in Ukraine – England fly into Kiev from their Krakow base on Thursday – and the fact the two midfielders, aged 32 and 31 respectively, both came into the tournament with lingering fitness issues.

Hodgson was asked whether it was too much to expect the two players to start every game and admitted there may have to be a change at some point. "That's the big question. I don't know the answer. I don't think I will be the only coach asking that about his players in this tournament but obviously those two are both over 30 and they both had to work really, really hard.

"This is what tournament football is about and we've got to make certain that, if they can't and if they start to show signs of fatigue, people such as Henderson, [James] Milner, [Phil] Jones or [Phil] Jagielka, are ready to go in there and do exactly the same job."

Parker, who said his achilles problem made him "touch and go" for the tournament, was substituted after fading during the second half. "I didn't really want to come off but I was feeling some cramp so I thought it was the best decision in the end," he said. "Myself and Steven just have to keep going. We have to, don't we? It's a very intense tournament and the conditions are very difficult. It's very hot. There's not a lot of cover in midfield, but I'm sure we'll be fine and we have other boys who can come in."

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