Written by Rhys Paul
England are through to the knockout stages of Euro 2016 despite enduring something of a frustrating and disappointing group campaign. The Three Lions domination in all three of their group games is undeniable, yet with only a solitary victory to show for it, what is to blame?
Against Russia and Slovakia, the team struggled to put away their chances. In the two games combined, England had 44 shots (15 v Russia and 29 v Slovakia), however in both games only 5 of these shots were on-target. The Russia game was frustrating in the sense that it was clear who the better team was, yet Russia claimed a point with one of only two shots on-target. On the other hand, Slovakia set themselves up negatively and it was clear from the get-go that they were playing for the draw – knowing full well it was probably going to be enough to see them qualify and so it proved. With the likes of Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and Wayne Rooney in the team, scoring did not seem like an issue before the tournament. After all, the first two scored 25 and 24 goals respectively in the Premier League last season and Rooney is the country’s all-time leading goalscorer. Daniel Sturridge is a talent and would have certainly scored more had injury not continued to hamper his career. Meanwhile, Marcus Rashford has taken Manchester Utd by storm since his debut in February and many fans were excited by his wildcard inclusion.
Kane has been nothing short of woeful so far and it appears that the weight of leading the line for Tottenham single-handedly all season has finally taken its toll. Vardy and Sturridge scored in that huge win over Wales, yet when they started against Slovakia they were starved of service and struggled to make any sort of impact. Rooney is no longer a striker in the eyes of Roy Hodgson and before the tournament, nobody wanted to see him start ahead of Vardy or Kane, meaning he has had to settle (albeit effortlessly) into a midfield role where he has thrived so far. Rashford was the shock inclusion in the Euro 2016 squad, but – with the quality of the strikers ahead of him – it seemed like a risk that was worth taking. He has since become the youngest player to represent England at the Euros following his 20 minute appearance against Wales, but I doubt he will displace any of the aforementioned players in the pecking order.
All have a different style, but the truth is they are not too dissimilar. Vardy, Rashford and Sturridge can all be deployed on the wing – at least in the eyes of Hodgson, which I disagree with – Kane is really the only typical number 9 that the team have. Vardy offers the greatest potential in a tactical change in the sense that he is at his most dangerous when played in behind an open defence – not the type of defence Slovakia used to shut him out. In this light, it would have made sense for Hodgson to have called up Andy Carroll. A lot of people will roll their eyes at the thought, but with Carroll in the squad, Hodgson would have had a ‘Plan B’. Carroll’s height, strength and style offers a unique alternative up-front and a call-up would have given England the type of target man who could have really punished teams like Russia and Slovakia. A fully-fit Andy Carroll is one of the most dangerous strikers in the league on his day – as he proved against Arsenal – and he is a powerful player when striding forward (contrary to popular belief he can actually play with the ball at his feet). None of the strikers in the squad offer the aerial threat that Carroll would have done. The performances of the full-backs – undoubtedly the biggest positive of the tournament so far – would have been even more devastating if they had a player like Carroll who they could whip the ball into.
In hindsight, it is easy to claim Carroll should be in the squad and recent calls for the striker to have been in the England team only highlights this. Did Carroll deserve to be called up? Rather simply, I’d say no. Aside from Kane and Vardy, Jermain Defoe and Troy Deeney scored more goals than Carroll. From a tactical perspective, I would say yes. Like Sturridge, he is a player who appears incapable of avoiding lengthy injuries (which I attribute to his style of play not conforming with his build). With 9 goals last season, he scored more goals than Rooney and Sturridge. The good spell he enjoyed at the back end of the season goes to show just how much he benefits from having a good run in the team without the disruption of injury. I did think that Rashford’s call-up was a bit premature and Sturridge’s injury record is quickly becoming more frustrating than Carroll’s. In place of either of these two, Carroll would have been a wiser and more shrewd choice. At set-pieces he would cause chaos in the box and he would provide an option for the full-backs to release the ball earlier rather than trying to constantly cut inside all the time. His inclusion in the team would have allowed Hodgson to mix it up and prevent the type of predictable stalemate experienced against Slovakia. The reality of it is that Rashford is unlikely to feature much, so surely it would have been better to give his place to a player who could have made a significant difference rather than wasting it for the sake of giving a future star tournament experience.
Dissatisfaction will always lead to supporters identifying alternatives who could have made a difference. Had Carroll been included in the squad, supporters would have been quick to criticise the decision. The way the tournament is being refereed also suggests that Carroll’s sometimes rough-and-ready approach would have been welcomed. With the strikers being isolated too easily, it usually does not take much to get Carroll involved with a good cross sometimes being all that is needed. Time will tell if England do prove Carroll’s presence is not needed, but at the moment it appears he could have made all the difference.
Should Carroll have been included in the squad? Let us know in the comments below!
credit Andrew Wilkinson