After the celebration of the sheer joy possible in football last weekend, it seems somewhat of a downer to turn our attention towards England at Euro 2012 this afternoon. There are a multitude of difficult problems facing Roy Hodgson. From those that have nothing to do with football, such as pleasing the demands of a press currently pulling a tantrum most five year-olds would be ashamed of, to those he will feel more at ease with such as choosing which strikers should accompany suspended Wayne Rooney to Ukraine. Despite being suspended for the first two games, Manchester United's Wayne Rooney will undoubtedly travel to the tournament such is the dearth of England’s striking options. Besides Rooney, and with Peter Crouch seemingly overlooked, there are no clear selections for England’s front line at Euro 2012. Roy Hodgson must choose between a pool of seven players all with a justified claim for selection.
Opinion is divided as to what approach Hodgson should take towards his strikers, a debate that extends to the rest of the squad. Should Hodgson focus on emerging young prospects such as Danny Wellbeck and Daniel Sturridge? Or should Hodgson opt for players who already have experience at international level such as Jermaine Defoe? Other questions Hodgson will have to answer include whether or not Andy Carroll’s offering of physical presence and impressive recent form justify his inclusion in the squad, and if Grant Holt’s goal scoring exploits justify international recognition.
Opinion is divided as to what approach Hodgson should take towards his strikers, a debate that extends to the rest of the squad
Defoe, while retaining his place at Tottenham, is far from an automatic choice for Spurs. Despite limited game time, however, Defoe has scored 17 times this season in all competitions. A natural finisher, Defoe’s conviction in front of goal is perhaps only matched by Wayne Rooney and Darren Bent. Yet one cannot shake the feeling that like Crouch, Defoe belongs to a generation of players that have been tried and tested before, with little evidence of success. Both players seem symptomatic of recent England sides who have done well against smaller nations, but failed when faced with a real test. In South Africa Defoe appeared to be England’s saviour against Slovenia, but was substituted for Emile Heskey against Germany.
Goalscoring Form: Impressive. 11 league goals from just 11 starts. 9/10
Link-Up Play: The reason why his goals can’t get him a regular start for Spurs. 4/10
Experience: Has represented England at tournaments before and has played in the Champions League. 7/10
Adaptability: Defoe is an outstanding finisher but little else. 4/10
For a fresher feel to his squad Hodgson will surely look to Danny Welbeck of Manchester United and Daniel Sturridge of Chelsea. Unlike Crouch, both players this season played key roles in Champions League sides. Welbeck has been an integral cog in the Manchester United front line, forming an understanding with Wayne Rooney more impressive than his tidy flat top. With Welbeck playing as an advanced forward, Rooney has dropped deep and influenced games from midfield. This partnership is definitely one Hodgson would do well to consider once Rooney returns from suspension. Despite some impressive strikes from distance, doubts remain over Welbeck’s conviction in front of goal. With Rooney missing for arguably the two hardest games of the group stage, can England afford to be profligate in front of goal?
Goalscoring Form: Dissapointing. Just 12 goals in 39 games. 4/10
Link-Up Play: Most valuable asset. Understanding with Rooney already exists. 8/10
Experience: Small Champions League and big club experience. 6/10
Adaptability: Can easily be slotted into a number of formations. 7/10
Daniel Sturridge was one of the few positives of Andre Villas-Boas’s otherwise grievous reign at Stamford Bridge. Sturridge’s early season form saw him score 10 goals by Christmas, as well as an ability to also play on the wing. However like Welbeck, doubts persist. Many, including Roberto DiMatteo are far from convinced by his apparent selfishness and naivety. Welbeck and Sturridge may therefore be a riskier selection choice. It is worth reminding ourselves, however, of Thomas Müller, the German forward who humbled England’s defense at the last World Cup. Müller had only just started playing for Bayern Munich the previous season and made his international debut only months before the tournament. Yet it was Müller who looked like the experienced pro in contrast to England’s hapless defense.
Goalscoring Form: Needs to rediscover his early season form, just two league goals in 2012. 5/10
Link-Up Play: Too often puts himself before his teammates. 5/10
Experience: Champions League experience and an impressive m.o.m appearance against Holland earlier this year. 6/10
Adaptability: Equally adept on the wing in a 4 – 3- 3. 7/10
Hodgson must also respond to the increasing calls for Norwich’s Grant Holt. At the beginning of the season most commentators would have been surprised to see Grant Holt still starting for Norwich in the Premier League, let alone finishing the season as the second-highest English goal scorer with 15. For many, this stat alone is enough to be convinced of his worth. But can this really be an indicator of international quality? We do not have to stray far from Norwich to find an example of another player to top the scoring charts in his first Premiership season. In the 2000-2001 Marcus Stewart scored 19 goals for rivals Ipswich Town. The following season Stewart only scored six and has spent the majority of his subsequent career laboring in the football league. Countless unexceptional strikers have over-achieved for one season in functional sides; Dave Kitson, Matt Jansen and Michael Bridges all experienced similar debut seasons to Holt. One good season does not an international footballer make.
Goalscoring Form: The outstanding candidate alongside Defoe in this category. 9/10
Link-Up Play: More impressive than his goals has been his importance to Norwich’s play. Noted for intelligent runs. 8/10
Experience: Made his Premier League debut at 31. 2/10
Adaptability: Holt is very much a “traditional centre forward”. 4/10
Welbeck has been an integral cog in the Manchester United front line, forming an understanding with Wayne Rooney more impressive than his tidy flat top
If Holt is to be considered, then surely Swansea’s Danny Graham (who only scored 3 goals less than Holt) must also. It is unlikely to happen but it cannot be denied that Graham is a pacy, natural finisher who has showcased his abilities as a footballer in Swansea’s attractive side. If Hodgson does want to make a gamble on a recent football league forward, surely Danny Graham is the more likely to make the step up to international football than Grant Holt.
Goalscoring Form: Good, but far from exceptional. 6/10
Link-Up Play: At home within a possession based Swansea side. 8/10
Experience: Only one Premier League Season under his belt. 2/10
Adaptability: Can neither double up as a target man nor a winger. 4/10
Next, we turn to the enigma that is Andy Carroll. A powerhouse forward capable of great impact from the bench or a lumbering, misfiring lump? Carroll’s recent form has certainly suggested the former but it was not long ago that Carroll, along with Fernando Torres, was the laughing stock of the league. When going into an international tournament, however, form is essential and Carroll’s cannot be overlooked. Carroll has blitzkrieged Chelsea’s defense on two separate occasions this month suggesting he is more tan capable of upsetting top defenses. Furthermore, Liverpool’s number nine offers a more direct option if England are ever in desperate need of a goal (which at some stage we can guarantee they will be).
Goalscoring Form: Has only ever impressed on this front in a half-season at Newcastle. 5/10
Link-Up Play: Has too often been unable of basic control and quick movement at Liverpool. 5/10
Experience: No Champions League experience but is already used to high-pressured environments.5/10
Adaptability: A traditional centre forward and not much else. 4/10
Finally, it is worth discussing Bobby Zamora. Zamora is not a striker on form. He is certainly not an exciting young prospect. Throughout his career he has often performed very well for mid-level Premiership sides yet he has rarely looked like making the step up to the top six. In fact, it is not easy to make a case for Zamora yet he may very well be in contention due to his productive working relationship with Roy Hodgson while both at Fulham. It has been well documented that Hodgson likes well-drilled sides with functional players and Zamora has already displayed an adept understanding of this at Fulham. It won’t be a popular decision, but do not be surprised to hear Zamora’s name at this afternoon’s press conference.
Goalscoring Form: Poor. Has only seen the net twice since joining QPR. 3/10
Link-Up Play: Is often valued more for teamwork than for scoring goals. 7/10
Experience: A handful England caps and an impressive campaign in the Europa League. 5/10
Adaptability: Can function in both direct and passing teams but is positionally limited. 4/10
So, where does this leave us? We have looked at seven possible choices leaving us with one clear candidate. Wellbeck scores higher than all of his competitors with a total of 25/40. With Rooney’s suspension and Darren Bent’s injury therefore, Hodgson has an answer to his striking dilemma to solve. Rooney's replacement also comes from Manchester United. And no, it isn't Michael Owen.
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