Much of the football discussion during the past week has revolved around Roy Hodgson being appointed as England's newest manager. Euro 2012 is only a month away now and many participating countries have already begun to release their preliminary squads for the competition. Using the words of Sir Trevor Booking, Hodgson has been "parachuted in" and there is certainly little time to prepare for arguably the world's most challenging international tournament. If you're an England supporter, perhaps the optimistic take, in regards to these less than ideal circumstances, is that Hodgson's recent time in the Premier League allows him to already be familiar with the pool of players from which he'll be choosing his squad from. It's expected that he'll be naming a preliminary squad sometime soon. Which Manchester United players will he choose?
Before we get to the player discussions though, a brief mention should be made of Hodgson's tactics. Although he's experimented with a 4-3-3 system recently while managing West Bromwich Albion, the Englishman has generally preferred a 4-4-2 sort of system. Michael Cox, on his excellent tactical blog Zonal Marking, discusses how Hodgson is the 'ultimate system manager' in this piece linked here. Cox even transcribes Hodgson discussing the 4-4-2:
"The back four gives you the best possibilities of covering the width of the pitch defensively, and it also gives you great options, in my opinion, to get the the full-backs forward…one can go forward and the other three can shuttle across and you’re still playing with three defenders. When you play with three defenders, you lose that possibility.
The other six players? One could discuss. There’s no doubt you need one forward…you need a point of reference…if you play with two of them, you have the added advantage that whoever receives the ball has someone in close support at all times, and if balls are going to be played forward, you’ve got someone to threat the back of the defence. If you take him (the second striker) out, the threat to the back of the defence has to come from the midfield, you need midfield players bursting forward. It’s interesting to play with two – though these days many teams are playing with them vertically, rather than alongside each other.
The central midfielders do an important job for you, they’re going to protect the back four, and they’re also going to be the catalysts for attacks. The wide players are the ones you’re looking for to use spaces.
With 4-4-2, you’ve got ‘twos’ all over the field. I would always be looking to find a team that can play with a back four. Amongst the front six there a lot more options."
By my count, there are nine players that could possibly be called into the England squad. Let's discuss each of them one-by-one:
* Wayne Rooney: The United striker is arguably England's only world-class talent at the moment. However, Rooney will miss England's first two group stage matches due to suspension. Hogdson has already indicated that Wazza will be in the squad though and he'll likely be 'the second striker' in support of the 'point of reference'.
* Danny Welbeck: The 21-year-old year striker has had an impressive first full season with the United first-team. Despite only being capped four times thus far in his international career, Welbeck's fantastic understanding with Rooney should help his case -- as will the injury and/or form concerns to the likes of Darren Bent, Andy Carroll, Bobby Zamora, Emile Heskey, and Jermaine Defoe. Hodgson does like a traditional No. 9 though -- Peter Crouch and Grant Holt provide this option along with the mentioned Carroll, Zamora, and Heskey -- as his 'point of reference' so Welbeck being a modern striker may be an excuse to drop him from the squad. Or perhaps, what Welbeck brings can provide Hodgson a different sort of tactical option.
* Ashley Young: In the past year or two, Young has arguably been England's best performing winger -- for both country and club. He'll certainly be in the squad and he's also a strong candidate to be first-choice on either flank. The former Aston Villa player is also capable of playing through the middle in support of a 'point of reference'.
* Michael Carrick: It would be absurd to me if Carrick is left out of the squad but he's been on the fringes of the England squad as of late. He's well suited 'to protect the back four' and his passing ability certainly allows him to be a 'catalyst for attacks'. I honestly think he's on par with, if not better, than the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Scott Parker, Gareth Barry, and whatever else non-world-class central-midfield option that I may be forgetting about.
* Paul Scholes: I forgot one option that is still world-class on his day -- 'Sat-Nav'. If he's willing, he should certainly head East this summer. He provides England an incredible deep-lying playmaker option. That is, if he's willing...
* Tom Cleverley: Can't see this one happening but he's probably one for the future. He and Jack Wilshere.
* Rio Ferdinand: Hodgson has seemed to indicate that he hopes to have Rio with him at Euro 2012 but that will obviously depend on how the sensitive issue with John Terry is worked out. Rio has lost some pace but his craft and guile still make him one of the better central-midfielders in the Premier League. I honestly think Rio and Terry are still England's best central-defense pairing option but much of that is because I don't rate the likes of Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, and Phil Jones (*) that high in that position. I do rate Chris Smalling though...
(*) I only mean that I don't trust Jones in central-defense at the moment against top competition. Perhaps one day, he will be a world-class center-back but he's not a viable option now for this tournament in that position.
* Chris Smalling: Once Rio's and Terry's time is done with England, I believe that Smalling has the potential to be the class of England's central-defense someday. For now, Hodgson choosing Smalling for depth in this tournament would be a wise move. It would also have the added benefit of giving the youngster experience at an international tournament.
* Phil Jones: The 20-year-old had a very good debut season at United but he was less than impressive in central-defense. I have little doubt though that Jones will grow into a fantastic player but I'm just not quite sure what position that may be at. He may be worth a flyer though because he can provide the versatility to cover at center-back, right-back, or in midfield.
Other potential United Euro 2012 participants
* Nani (Portugal): In Portugal's 4-3-3 system, Nani will be opposite of Cristiano Ronaldo as the right-sided forward. Those two will be counted on to provide the spark in their attack.
* Patrice Evra (France): As you're probably well aware, Evra captained a France side in South Africa that completely embarrassed themselves -- on and off the pitch. The United vice-captain rejoined the France squad and he'll be in competition with Gael Clichy for first-choice at left-back. France's first match is versus England.
* Anders Lindegaard (Denmark): The United goalkeeper recently returned from injury and he's been participating for the Reserves as of late. Lindegaard was Thomas Sorensen's deputy for Euro 2012 qualifying and if he is fit and in decent form, he should be in contention for that role again for this tournament.