By Nilesh Patel
- Five questions to be asked for Sam Allardyce’s first game as England manager
- England kick off their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign against Slovakia on Sunday
SLOVAKIA – The 2018 World Cup qualifiers, as well as Sam Allardyce’s England career, commence this weekend with a trip away to Slovakia.
Since the dismal performances at the Euro Championships in France this summer led to us crashing out against Iceland – and Roy Hodgson’s managerial sacking – we can understand the lack of optimism surrounding the start of the qualifying campaign for the Russia World Cup in 2018.
After much speculation about who the FA would chose as their saviour, Allardyce was their answer amid talk of Eddie Howe, Alan Pardew and even Arsene Wenger being interested.
Allardyce announced his 23-man squad for the Slovakia game just a few days after round 3 of the Premier League season.
Not a great deal has changed for the Three Lions, aside from the change of the backroom staff, the squad has stayed pretty much the same. Although one new face has been added to the line-up in West Ham’s Michail Antonio, who somewhat replaces the experienced presence of James Milner who announced his international retirement shortly after the Euros.
With questions of ‘who will be in Allardyce’s squad’ already being answered; these are the burning questions ahead of Big Sam’s first game in charge.
What style will England adopt under Allardyce?
One thing that can be certain of any Allardyce team is that it will be disciplined. While most club managers expect teams to follow their style ruthlessly, it’s much more difficult to exercise your own style at international level. Clubs can transfer five or more players in a window for a manager to recruit players who they deem appropriate to their philosophy, whereas for national sides the situation needs much more delicacy.
Allardyce, with the talent pool available to him, can only change a few names each qualifying game. Thus, he will have to pick the players he can trust to convey his disciplined style of play on the pitch.
The discipline will come from the experience within the squad, Gary Cahill and Joe Hart will no doubt be reprieved for their Euro performances and will play a key role in organising the back line. Reinstated captain – Wayne Rooney – will also be pivotal in the attacking display for Allardyce.
To have discipline on the pitch, players must work hard, strenuously drilling formations and correct positioning is Allardyce’s forte. We can expect high work rate from the young players in the squad, Spurs’ English midfield contingent of Eric Dier and Dele Alli will be asked to apply their energetic play to England. Likewise for Adam Lallana and Danny Drinkwater, who was mistakenly left out of Hodgson’s Euro squad, will have to transfer their high work rate in an England shirt for their new manager. After all, it is not easy to refuse Big Sam when he asks you to do something.
Discipline has always been the foundation of the manager’s sides. It has been reported that Allardyce had a dossier of do’s and don’ts which all players had to sign up to, which they did willingly.
Set pieces are another of Allardyce’s specialties. Allardyce likes to have his players in the optimum position to score.
With a strong aerial presence coming from Harry Kane, we can only hope he will not be taking any more corner kicks for his country. Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Antonio – who has scored eight headed goals whilst at West Ham – will also give opponents a problem in the penalty box.
Where will Rooney’s position be in midfield?
Allardyce confirmed Rooney as his captain on Monday and there’s not much argument against it.
Rooney is England’s record goal scorer and is the most capped player in the squad. He is Allardyce’s most senior player having appeared at six major tournaments with England.
The Manchester United captain has scored 53 times in an England shirt and took the armband from Steven Gerrard over a year ago. There is no doubt that Rooney has the respect from his peers, but he also is at the time in his career where he enjoys the responsibility of being a captain.
Towards the back end of his career, Rooney has been used as a midfielder by both Hodgson and Louis Van Gaal (his old United manager) and certainly relishes the role. As the Englishman has aged he has naturally come towards his defence for the ball, rather than running in-behind the opposition back line.
From the beginning of this season, Jose Mourinho has given Rooney the position of playing just behind the striker, where he can come deep and travel forward. It is likely that Rooney will be employed the same way by Allardyce. This way Big Sam can make use of Rooney’s passing ability while surrounding him with movement from creative outlets like Daniel Sturridge, Kane, Jamie Vardy and Theo Walcott.
Who will be Sam’s main striker?
This same question was asked towards Hodgson before entering the Euros, by the time we had exited the tournament the answer was still left unanswered.
The prolonged injury of Sturridge should have been dealt with by Hodgson, instead of excluding him from the squad he took the striker but played him out wide in the tournament while Vardy and Kane were left wondering who should do what up-front.
Given Allardyce’s ruthless streak, we can expect this to not be a problem for England in the future. He’s already quashed rumours of Jermain Defoe and Andy Carroll making an England comeback for this fixture by not picking them in the squad, despite Defoe scoring two goals already this season.
He also gave youngster Marcus Rashford an indication that he needs to keep his form up by not including him in the squad, allowing him to play for the under-21’s.
We can expect Vardy and/or Kane to be starting up top against Slovakia with competition coming from Sturridge who is returning from injury and is getting more game time at Liverpool. Either way all England strikers will have to prove to Allardyce that they should start every game for him by playing consistently well for their clubs.
When will mistakes be learnt for England?
Whether it be for the recruitment, the managerial decisions or the errors on the pitch there has been more than a handful of mistakes for England to act upon in recent times.
For the manager, it must be stated that even if qualifying is a walk in the park, you must know your best starting eleven heading into a tournament. At this point, Allardyce can test his choices and try out players working off one another and seeing who works best with who.
The young talent we have in this squad is good enough to rival any other English generation. With players like: John Stones, Luke Shaw, Alli, Dier, Raheem Sterling and Kane all under the age of 24 and having featured at least one major tournament; we can hope that they will be at the forefront of any of Allardyce’s future plans. Especially as they all feature regularly at top Premier League clubs.
Allardyce must learn from his formers, if the player is good enough he should play no matter what age or club. In particular he must pick players who deserve to wear the shirt, who are in good form and can help the team.
We can see he has acted on this issue by already including Drinkwater and Antonio in the squad, leaving Jack Wilshere and Ross Barkley out. Despite Barkley starting the season excitingly by scoring and assisting one goal.
As for the players, with the majority of Allardyce’s squad having played under Hodgson, it will take time to implement a new identity. With the majority of Hodgson’s Euro 2016 squad being young, Allardyce will have to approach this undeveloped squad differently.
During Euro 2016, it became apparent that England didn’t have an identity under Hodgson. There didn’t seem to be style of play that the whole team were in wavelength with. This must be addressed by Allardyce, but also by the players; they must be able to read the game and adjust appropriately.
Can hope be restored for England fans?
Firstly, the qualifying campaign must get off to a winning start, against our Euro 2016 rivals who held England to a draw, Allardyce must state his intent with a win.
After much contemplation over the team’s tactical and technical flaws at previous tournaments, it was England’s mental strength that was questioned in France as the players appeared to panic against Iceland.
The new manager looks to tackle that head on exploiting the psychology of his players and getting them in the right mental state for Russia 2018.
The new boss also hopes to change the mood of the camp, as he reaches the pinnacle of his career. He wants himself and the players to have some fun by reducing the pressure and increasing the feel-good factor.
Perhaps we should do the same?
Slovakia v England kicks off at 5pmpm BST on 4 September.
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