This article is part of the Guardian’s Euro 2016 Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the countries who have qualified for France. theguardian.com is running previews from three countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 10 June.
The days have gone since Roy Hodgson set up his team in a rigid 4-4-2 structure with so little fluidity running through the side Gary Lineker questioned whether England were playing football “from the dark ages”.
Four years into his reign, Hodgson’s England can play in an adventurous 4-3-3 system or go for the midfield diamond that was so effective when they came from 2-0 behind to win 3-2 in Germany recently. The team showed that night they can be intrepid travellers and there is certainly the potential for a side featuring Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and Dele Alli to worry defences.
Finding the right position for Wayne Rooney is perhaps the biggest dilemma for Hodgson when Kane and Vardy finished last season as the Premier League’s top scorers, managing the same number between them – 49 – as the entire Manchester United team put together. Rooney started England’s last warm-up game at the front tip of the diamond but that is the position where Alli does his best work. Hodgson is extremely loyal to Rooney – England’s captain and record scorer – but there is no obvious solution if he wants to keep him in the team yet shoehorn in the players who showed the best form last season.
England still look strong in attack even if the Portugal game was a disappointment but they also have a slightly lopsided appearance when, defensively, they may be much more vulnerable. Joe Hart is established as the first-choice goalkeeper but Hodgson must have concerns about his centre-backs. Chris Smalling is vastly improved but can still be accident-prone. Gary Cahill has had an erratic season and John Stones, as back-up, is going into the tournament on the back of a personal slump. On that basis, it is certainly perplexing Hodgson has taken a calculated gamble by including only three centre-backs though Eric Dier can, if necessary, switch from midfield to go back in an emergency role.
Kyle Walker and Danny Rose are the favourites to take the full-back roles in a side that will have a distinct Tottenham Hotspur flavour, with as many as five players from White Hart Lane in the starting XI. Dier has strong credentials to be the holding midfield player but Hodgson is a staunch admirer of Jack Wilshere and the Arsenal midfielder could play a considerable part as long as his fitness holds up after a season in which he started only one league match. Hodgson’s side will not feature natural wingers but the front players will be expected to move out wide and the team will have overlapping full-backs.
Probable starting XI
Which England player is going to surprise everyone at the Euros?
Eric Dier has excelled this season for Tottenham in a defensive midfield role and, if England have problems in the back four, his shielding could be vital.
Who is the player who is going to disappoint the most?
Raheem Sterling is going into the tournament with brittle confidence after losing his form for Manchester City since the turn of the year. Sterling established himself in England’s starting XI at the World Cup but is no longer terrorising defenders in the same way.
What is the realistic aim for England at the Euros and why?
England coasted through their qualification group and the 3-2 win in Germany in March should encourage them to think positively. They should certainly be confident of reaching the quarter-finals and, after that, it is not utterly ludicrous to think they can go further. A lot depends on how they defend because that is clearly their weakness when it comes to facing the top opponents.
• Daniel Taylor writes for The Guardian
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