England rounded off the group stage with a 0-0 draw against Slovakia on Monday evening. Despite dominating possession, England could not make the breakthrough needed to secure first place in the group. Following their 3-0 win against Russia, Wales finished top ahead of their fellow home nation.
While England remain unbeaten in the competition, the draws against Russia and Slovakia will be particularly disappointing especially considering their domination throughout the games.
Here are some of the things to come out of England’s final group game.
England: Great With Possession, Lacking Final Third Threat
What the group stages have shown is that when it comes to keeping possession against lesser teams, England do a great job. Against Slovakia, the team managed 61% possession. Along with that they had 29 shots on goal. The problem is that only 5 of those were on target.
One of the excuses that will no doubt be rolled out is Slovakia’s incessant need to have at least ten players behind the ball at all times. Yes they are difficult to break down but it is a situation that England have had months to plan for. Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge started after their impressive cameo against Wales but couldn’t quite make the breakthrough. Kane, meanwhile, made an appearance as a sub but saw very little of the ball. All of the England strikers made Martin Skrtel look like the best defender in the sport and subsequently they need to up their game.
When coming up against a better team in the next round, England will hopefully be allowed the space in the final third to be able to make an impact. The strikers will have to step up, however, as compact defending by their opponents is unlikely to be a valid excuse in the next game.
Is Rooney England’s Bale?
Wales often get stick for being a one man team. When you have Gareth Bale amongst your ranks, however, I am sure they are not bothered. Bale is talismanic for the Welsh and at no point would you see them willingly drop him to the bench if they have any choice in the matter.
The closest England come to someone with such a high level of influence is Wayne Rooney. Rooney is England’s top all time goal scorer and, while he is currently playing in midfield, has the potential to cause trouble for opponents whenever he is on the ball. Therefore, resting your captain and someone so influential is not an advisable decision.
Yes he may have been tired but at the end of the day he is one of the most important players in the squad. Not playing him against Slovakia could have cost England second place in the group and subsequently is not a move I would suggest in future.
Dier A Vital Component
One player appears to have particularly impressed the manager and the fans. Eric Dier, playing as a holding midfielder, has featured in all of England’s group stage games and is clearly a key part of Hodgson’s plans. Defensively Dier is vital to the team at the moment but is also able to step up at important moments with inch perfect passes and his free kick against Russia.
Whether he is breaking up the play at one end of the pitch or setting up attacks at the other, Dier is becoming irreplaceable in the England squad and someone that they need to make sure stays fit for the duration of the tournament.
Is Rashford What England Need?
With England approaching the last fifteen minutes of the game and needing a goal, Hodgson opted to bring on Harry Kane in place of Daniel Sturridge. Sturridge was not having his finest game and a change was needed. Kane being brought on, however, may not have been the right one. The Spurs striker has failed to find the net in his two starts and being given only a matter of minutes on this occasion, he again drew a blank.
For me, Kane is the kind of striker that needs to start if you’re going to play him at all. With the two speedy, flair strikers already on the pitch then the only one who could have had a greater impact off the bench was Rashford. Yes he’s young, yes he’s comparatively inexperienced. What he lacks in experience, however, he makes up for in youthful exuberance and confidence. Opponents will not know what to expect when it comes to Rashford and as England progress through the tournament perhaps he is exactly what they need.