Euro 2016 – England

England qualified for Euro 2016 with ease after a perfect record of ten wins in ten games to build the hopes of a nation that hasn’t won any silverware since winning the 1966 World Cup some 50 years ago. It seems that every time England enter a tournament confidence is high, only to leave the fans bitterly disappointed by under-performing.

Perhaps England’s best performances at recent tournaments were the semi-final appearances at the 1990 World Cup in Italy and Euro 96 on home soil. That said, those games came 26 and 20 years ago respectively so the country that invented the beautiful game is long overdue a performance at a major international tournament.

Recent strong performances and some emerging stars have provided some optimism but Roy Hodgson’s men will have to be at their very best to stand any chance of winning in France. We spoke to James Cunliffe who assessed the team’s chances in the summer.

England qualified for Euro 2016 with ease – what do you make of their chances in the summer?

The qualifiers were a breeze and we weren’t tested, but you can only beat what’s put in front of you and with that said we showed the quality within this England side. We’re put down as outsiders for the Euros but I honestly think we can win it. To win a month-long tournament in the format of the Euros it’s all about the form of your players and it’s been really encouraging to see some of our most important players put in quality performances consistently throughout the season. We have a vibrant, youthful and energetic squad filled with more than enough quality to overcome any team on our day.

Who are the most important players for England for this year’s Euros?

Starting from the back, England’s full-backs will play a huge part in both the attacking and defending phases of play, whether it is Walker or Clyne on the right and Rose on the left, overlapping runs and defensive cover makes these positions vital to England’s potential success. However, Chris Smalling is my pick from the back to be England’s most valuable player; despite his club’s failures, Smalling has remained fit for the majority of the season and has been a rock at the back for Manchester United – If it weren’t for the help of him and his keeper, United would be in a lot more trouble than they currently are. There’s a split in opinion on whether Gary Cahill or John Stones should partner the United man, I lean towards the ball-playing youngster, Stones, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Smalling should be the main man in defence for the Three Lions – he’s clever, athletic and fearless, all the traits a developing centre half needs to play in any type of game.

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Spurs have gifted the national side with a plethora of talent and hope, and in midfield a real rock of a player has emerged this season; Eric Dier. Formally played as a defender, Mauricio Pochettino has transformed him into a solid midfield general and, for me; Dier is a vital piece to the England jigsaw. Sitting just in-front of the back four, his aid in protection really does strengthen a relatively weak midfield. He’s not featured much for England in his career, but he shone against Germany in a friendly earlier this year, where he got the winning goal, and I’m sure he will be one of the first names on the team-sheet for Roy Hodgson this summer.

Finally, topping off an English recipe for European success is Harry Kane. Yet another key player developing from the Spurs squad (thank-you Mr. Pochettino), Kane has enjoyed two excellent seasons in the Premier League, getting over 20 league goals both times around. Remarkably, Kane surpassed the ‘second season syndrome’ curse and is now sitting top of the league goal-scoring charts at 24 goals, ahead of Sergio Agüero and Jamie Vardy. Kane has been a huge figure in Spurs’ recent successes and it’s been a pleasure to watch the growth of now a proven striker.

England should be confident of winning their group alongside Russia, Wales and Slovakia – who poses the biggest threat? Is it dangerous to think the group is already won? The English media seem overly confident about their chances?

Initially looking at the group, we should be confident of topping it with Russia and Wales fighting it out for second. However, there are no easy games in this competition and Hodgson will need to make sure the players keep their guard up in each game.  We play Russia first, then Wales and then Slovakia; Russia is a huge country and in the past they have been hard to play against in these international tournaments, they have some outstanding talents who will force the best out of the England team. I’m expecting Wales to play for the draw, setting up a rigid defensive structure and focusing all their attacking threat solely through Gareth Bale – who on his own will cause England many problems. As for Slovakia, I think they are the weakest side in the group but complacency is unforgivable on such a big stage so England need to play at their best at all times.

I think playing the game quickly on the counter suits England the most nowadays and during this group phase I’m not sure how many times we will be allowed to do that. All three games should theoretically see England play with the ball and dominate possession, but hopefully we can create goals with this style of play because we have failed to turn a majority of possession into any attacking threats before and for these reasons I would put Wales down as our biggest threat in the group. Wales have a great manager in Chris Coleman and the spirit to fight for 90 minutes, the system in which Wales are expected to set up against England will undoubtedly be hard to break down and I fear we won’t be able to do such a thing. If we bag an important three points against Russia earlier on in the stage then a draw will be a content result from the Wales game.

English media are constantly pressuring the national team with whatever they write so I’m sure the players are aware that it is highly important they show up and get the job done in order to qualify for the knock out phases. World Cup 2014 in Brazil was bitterly disappointing, in fact we were possibly the worst performing team in the entire competition with consideration to our aims before it started, and because of this the players have to dramatically improve this summer.

What kind of tactics are we likely to see from Roy Hodgson in France?

How England should line-up has been a widely debated topic between fans for a while now, we all seem to have different views of who should play and how we should play. I’m confident that taking advantage of the in-form players and how they have been playing all season is our best route for success in the Euros. By this I mostly mean the Leicester, Spurs and Liverpool outfielders who have been deployed to press constantly and highly for their clubs this season – we’ve seen how it worked out against the world champions, Germany, in a friendly and it was probably the best performance from an England team I can remember in my life-time; for once we weren’t a team of talented individuals not playing together but we were a unit that not even the best players in the world could deal with.

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Near enough every position in the England team is highly contested for by talented players and these players are not just alternate options of personnel but they offer a completely different style; for example, the way Sturridge goes about his game is completely different to the way Vardy does, and this unpredictability of how England will use their players should come to our benefit.

We have players that are accustomed to the fast, counter-attack and by making use of this we should press as high while ensuring our attacks our decisive and direct. From the wing, Rose and Walker are the best two in the country for the overlapping runs required within this system. With Vardy in hot-form right now, his incredible pace allows him to sit on the last man of defence and if he can keep himself on-side then he will be almost un-tameable. Stones and Smalling don’t fear running out from the back and getting attacks started themselves, while Dier is a safety net in midfield that England can fall back on. Not to forget England are blessed with one of the world’s best goalkeepers in Joe Hart, if Roy gets it right in France, England have a huge chance of success.

Who will go as the four strikers in the squad – it’s a big talking point at the moment, would you take the trusted Welbeck or Sturridge? Is Rooney still the main man?

England have reams of attacking talents throughout the country, too much some would argue and that makes it hard for the manager to cut down on only four strikers in the squad. Vardy and Kane will surely make half of the squad’s strikers this summer; they have both been in impeccable form this season and completely deserve their place in the team. It’s also undeniable that Roy will take the captain, Wayne Rooney, as another one of our strikers – this is controversial topic, as some, including me, believe Rooney has had his day and will only slow down the team. However, you can’t escape his world class talents and ability to win the game, I’m positive Rooney will at least go to France.

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This leaves one spot, although there are shouts for Rashford and Walcott, I can’t see past Sturridge. As I said before, Sturridge offers something different to any other English striker; his clever movement, quick dribbling and greediness in the box could prove vital should the Liverpool man play himself into the starting team. Although, I still think Roy will also take Welbeck to the Euros, rather as a fifth striker or a midfielder. Danny Welbeck is quick, strong and completely capable to use these athletic attributes on the left wing, he’s cause problems out there before and in the Euro qualifiers was one our best performing players and for that reason deserves to be on the plane to France.

Are there any potential star players coming through the youth system?

Recently there have been quite a lot of players who have made it through the rankings into the first team, and actually delving into the under-21 and under-19 teams you can see there’s plenty of talent who can hopefully follow the footsteps of the likes of John Stones, Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli and Eric Dier.

Currently impressing in Gareth Southgates’ under-21 team is Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea), a youngster who has already started to make his mark onto the Premier League. Demarai Gray (Leicester) is a tricky winger that’s worth keeping your eye on, as is his attacking partner Chuba Akpom (Arsenal – on loan at Hull). Dominic Solanke (Chelsea – on loan at Vitesse) is enjoying his time in Holland and could feature more for the national team in the future if he can surpass Jordan Ibe (Liverpool) who has been out of favour at club feature of late, but still impressing Southgate on an international level.

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Tosin Adarabioyo (Manchester City) and Reece Oxford (West Ham) are absolute rocks for their age and if they can break fully into the under-19 team like they have been doing recently, then the only way is up for the pair. While solid at the back, the under-19 team has an abundance of attacking talent, which includes Patrick Roberts (Manchester City – on loan at Celtic) and Sheyi Ojo (Liverpool), both players hotly tipped to be great players in the future. And of course there is Marcus Rashford (Manchester United) who has played in younger ages of the England team; he looks to have a bright future ahead of him after dealing already in big pressure situations for his club this season.

Leicester City’s Danny Drinkwater has had an excellent season – can you see him making the squad? And if so, is it fair to the players that got the team to France?

Danny Drinkwater and the entire Leicester team have been certainly overachieving this season and all in all it’s been a great, inspirational story. Danny has played a huge part in that very successful team and I think it would be only fair to him as a player that he be called up for the team in France. I don’t think it would be unfair to the others who played a bigger part in the qualifiers because at the end of the day, the Euros should be completed by the players in the best form at that current time, it’s all about form and Danny is showing lots of it.

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In a position that isn’t as highly contested as the others at England, there’s a big chance Danny Drinkwater could well find himself in the starting team should he play well enough. At the moment I’d say he has to fight off Henderson and Wilshere in that central role, but both have had injury troubles of late and the luck might just swing in the Leicester man’s favour and you make your own luck, so he definitely deserves it.

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