Rafael Benitez: England would be best off playing a 4-2-3-1 formation


Click to follow
The Independent Online

England's moment is here and I am sensing a lot of pessimism in the country about their chances. Everybody is talking, saying England are not good enough. But I don't understand this. Are Sweden or Ukraine, the other two nations in the group, better than Roy Hodgson's side? No, they are not. And I think tonight's game against France in Donetsk is one that both teams can win. Yes, if England lose, everybody will be saying this and that about them but I do think England have a number of options tactically. The style and ideas they have adopted are not a problem and they are capable of winning their difficult opening game. The talk has been about whether Rio Ferdinand should be with the squad. He is a very good player and with good players around you, you will always be better. He has experience and in tournaments like this experience becomes an even more important quality than ever. It is a short competition, too. It's not as if he would have been there for nine months. But England have Gary Neville to assist Roy Hodgson, which is a very positive thing, and he will have been able to offer his own knowledge on the situation. That decision has been made now, though, and England can only look ahead. The absent player who matters much more than Ferdinand is Wayne Rooney because it is not easy to find a second striker like him, who is so mobile, making runs and doing so many unexpected things. If Andy Carroll is the target man then my idea is that Steven Gerrard would be the better second striker for now. This is partly because he knows Carroll from their work together at Liverpool but it is also because Gerrard will win the second balls around the box. Of all the players Hodgson might choose to play behind the striker, Gerrard has the greater strength to win those second balls.

Of course, if you play Steven there you will lose some of the quality and possession he would offer in the middle and England could be flat. To keep that quality, you would have him back in the centre of the park. If you play Danny Welbeck as the striker then you need more mobility behind him and Ashley Young will be good for that. So, go more direct and it should be Carroll and Gerrard. Play the ball on the floor and it should be Welbeck and Young.

For these first two games, when England are without Rooney, I think a 4-2-3-1 formation will be best and would give England more mobility. Roy Hodgson has had England playing a 4-4-1-1 formation but that can be just like a 4-2-3-1 if your wingers are offensive. The 4-2-3-1 set-up has the advantage of giving you plenty of numbers in midfield. So, there is a lot for England to think about but I do not believe they need to be fearful – even though when you play a short tournament and there are only three games, the first one is very important. Steven Gerrard said that he had heard whispers about people saying this was the weakest group of players England have had for a long time and how this was a chance to prove those people wrong.