by Luke Regan
England’s performance against Switzerland in their most recent European Championship qualifying game represented both a terrific result- 2-0, but also one of the best performances from the English national team under the management of Roy Hodgson.
During the game, Hodgson chose to utilise a 4-4-2 with a diamond shape in midfield, probably inspired by Brendan Rodgers Liverpool, who have turned in outstanding performances using the system. Indeed, probably the biggest positive of using the midfield diamond for England is that many Liverpool players are already familiar with the system, so players such as Daniel Sturridge, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Glen Johnson can operate in the same role as they do for their club side.
The only position within the system that you would say could be a considered weak link is that of the deepest player within the midfield, the holder. For Liverpool, Steven Gerrard operates at the base of the diamond, however, his retirement from international football obviously means that he can’t fulfil the role for England.
Against Switzerland, Jack Wilshere played as the deepest of the midfielders, which is admittedly an unfamiliar role for the Arsenal man. Although Wilshere performed adequately in the role, you would think that his energy would be more useful as one of the shuttlers to the side of the holding midfielders, and that there are players better suited to playing the deeper role.
The player that is probably the closest thing to Gerrard, in terms of his style of play is the Hull City midfield player Tom Huddlestone. The former Tottenham man passes with similar directness and ambition to Gerrard, often playing raking passes out to marauding full backs. However, the downside to Huddlestone is that, like Gerrard, Huddlestone isn’t particularly adept defensively, with a lack of positional sense often letting him down when his team are without possession.
Gareth Barry should probably be considered to be another contender to inherit the role, the midfielder pairs reliable, if not always particularly ambitious passing, with solid defensive ability, often plugging gaps left by more adventurous midfield players. Indeed, the Everton man showed his undoubted ability for Everton last season whilst on a season long loan, so much so that Roberto Martinez opted to sign Barry on a permanent deal. However, Barry’s woes during the 2010 World Cup, particularly during the game against Germany seem to have consigned Barry to a place out of Hodgson’s thoughts.
Manchester United’s Michael Carrick is surely the standout candidate to play as England’s deepest central midfielder. Although Carrick is currently recovering from a long term injury, you would think that his undoubted positional ability and quality on the ball would push him to the front of the queue for a starting birth in the England set up. Although Carrick has been mistreated to a certain extent by England, he is seemingly the logical choice to control play deep in midfield for Hodgson’s England.
Whilst there are other contenders to operate at the base of Hodgson’s diamond, such as the criminally underrated trio of Jack Cork, Ashley Westwood and Mark Noble, you would have to assume that the candidates listed above will be the main challengers, at least in the short term anyway.