Wingers must track fluid French forwards


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The Independent Online

Roy Hodgson's great strength as a manager is his ability to organise a team. The question which will be answered tonight is whether a handful of training sessions are enough for him to organise a unit that can frustrate one of international football's most talented and fluid frontlines?

Laurent Blanc's France operate a 4-1-4-1 system with Karim Benzema heading a quartet of attack-minded midfield talents. Samir Nasri and Franck Ribéry nominally operate on the right and left flanks respectively, in reality the pair come inside regularly with Ribéry especially given freedom to drift. Their movement allows the full-backs Mathieu Debuchy and Patrice Evra to overlap, adding further width to the attack.

The central midfielders, Newcastle United's Yohan Cabaye and Chelsea's Florent Malouda, also have licence to wander and frequently break forward into dangerous positions between the lines. The dangerous Benzema drops deep or pulls wide, asking difficult questions of his markers.

England will hope to exploit the vulnerability of Philippe Mexès and Adil Rami, but the focus is on stopping France. This is why Hodgson is likely to prefer James Milner and Stewart Downing to Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

The keys for England will be concentration, communication and decision-making. Ribéry and Nasri wander too far infield for Johnson and Cole to track them all the way, so they will usually "pass on", probably to Scott Parker and Steven Gerrard. When they do follow, Milner and Downing must drop into the space the full-backs have left, at other times it is the wide men who will follow Ribéry and Nasri.

In the centre, John Terry and Joleon Lescott must beware being drawn too far out of position by Benzema. If they are Parker or Gerrard will have to drop in, but that pair's main task will be blocking the holes Cabaye and Malouda want to drive into.

Hodgson will also tell his forwards to hold the ball, to give the defence a break and get the team up the pitch, but also because England can't afford to just defend. The Danes may be the model for Hodgson: they kept out Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

But France will likely manage to create at least a handful of good chances, so Joe Hart will have to be on top form.