England will not implement a man-marking plan aimed at nullifying Gareth Bale when they play Wales on Thursday and Roy Hodgson is increasingly inclined to field an unchanged side for the fixture at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis in Lens.
The manager was satisfied with most aspects of his side’s performance against Russia in Marseille when Wayne Rooney operated in midfield, despite England’s efforts being checked by Vasili Berezutski’s equaliser in stoppage time. Bale’s potential impact in a game the forward has labelled a “derby”more akin to a Premier League fixture has played a part in England’s preparations, with the pre-tournament friendly against Portugal having been arranged in the hope it would pit the hosts against another of the world’s elite forwards, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Those aspirations were dashed by Real Madrid’s participation in the Champions League final, after which the victorious Portuguese was granted time off to recover, thereby missing the match in London. But, where Fabio Capello had assigned James Milner to shadow Bale in the teams’ last meeting in qualifying for the European Championship five years ago – the midfielder was booked after 20 minutes for bringing down the Welshman as the hosts won 1-0 at Wembley – Hodgson will not follow suit.
Rather, he will encourage his own players to impose themselves on the match in the belief they will gain greater reward than in Marseille, while also acknowledging Bale will not be the sole threat from Welsh ranks. “I believe there’s probably more talk about it than anything else,” said Adam Lallana, who is likely to retain his own brief in England’s attacking trident.
“We know we can’t just focus on Gareth thinking that’s how we’ll win the game. Their second goal [against Slovakia] was Aaron Ramsey to Hal Robson-Kanu, and he slotted it in the bottom corner. Gareth wasn’t involved.
“His free-kick [for the first Wales goal] was brilliant technique, down to hours and hours of practice. We need to know his qualities because they’re a big part of Wales’ strengths but we all watch the Real Madrid games on the television, so we don’t need to sit there and be told exactly what run he makes every time. We’re professional players. We have some in our squad from Manchester City who played Real this year, and others who have faced Barcelona and [Lionel] Messi in the Champions League, and it’s not always the right thing to do, to man-mark them. You’ve just got to be aware of their individual strengths.
“You don’t want to leave your team too vulnerable on the counterattack with players like Gareth Bale on the other team, given the qualities he has. But it’s not a one-man show.
“They’ve got plenty of other good players. I have the pleasure of playing with Joe Allen [at Liverpool] and I know what a talent he is. Aaron Ramsey is another one who is very talented, so we can’t just put all our focus on Gareth then get a sucker punch from one of their other good players. It’s right we respect the whole team and look at their strengths and weaknesses and figure out how we are going to beat them.”
The former Fulham manager Kit Symons watched England in Marseille on Chris Coleman’s behalf, with the Wales manager to stress to his players not to allow Rooney the time and space he initially enjoyed at the Stade Vélodrome to dictate the play. Yet there is a belief within England’s ranks their own key performers will rise to the occasion and eclipse Group B’s early leaders.
“They’ll definitely be thinking about our players,” Lallana said. “Anyone would who is playing against us and looking at our squad. “There are attacking players on the bench we can use, and options in abundance to come in and keep the standard high. I think they’ll be doing their preparation and trying to stop us.”
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