The England captain Steven Gerrard said last night that Sweden's aerial vulnerability in defence was a weakness Roy Hodgson had pinpointed, as the manager toyed with a bold move of partnering Andy Carroll with Danny Welbeck here tonight.
Swedish manager Erik Hamren's side have conceded six of their last seven goals and seven out of 11 from headers and Gerrard, who declared tonight's opponents are weaker than France, said that flaw has been picked up in tapes of Sweden's last six games, which the players have watched in preparation. "They have conceded a lot of goals off crosses," Gerrard said. "It is an area we will be trying to concentrate on. We have some wonderful crossers of a ball in our squad. It is one area [of weakness] but there are others as well."
The Independent's columnist Rafael Benitez argues the merits of deploying Carroll against the Swedes in today's paper and the Swedish weakness from crosses clearly stems from uncharacteristically poor organisation. Olof Mellberg, now 34 and in his last tournament for Sweden, is unaccustomed to working with Andreas Granqvist. Such is the indignation in Sweden about the way Mikael Lustig crucially abandoned his post in the 2-1 defeat to Ukraine, that a "mark the post" Twitter campaign has been mounted in the country.
Hodgson's belief in Welbeck, who has impressed, has led him to give serious consideration to keeping him up front, with Ashley Young moving to the left flank in place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Though Sweden are only three places behind France, at 17th in the Fifa world rankings, both Gerrard and Hodgson declared England to be favourites for tonight's game. "We have to accept that in the next two games we will not be underdogs and it is up to us to get the results," said Hodgson, who wants the win to avoid making the next two-hour flight into the heat of Donetsk in need of a win against the co-hosts on Tuesday.
Hodgson said that getting in behind defenders with crosses was on his mind for tonight, despite Carroll not impressing in last week's public training session. "In all the clubs I have worked at I have always done a lot of work on players getting in crossing situations and movement for crosses," he said. "Let's hope the message we are trying to put will help us in that area because there is no doubt with a team like Sweden, who are very compact centrally, if we are going to get behind them then getting down the wings and in behind them in the wide areas will be an important facet of our play."
Carroll and Welbeck have never started together for England before and Hodgson urged patience for the untested strike partnerships he was experimenting with. "One would hope people will be patient as it is only three weeks into the job [for me]," he said. "I can't maybe satisfy everyone, maybe other people would like to see more. I think I am realistic and pragmatic."
The France manager Laurent Blanc last night suggested England were not a good side when he said of his own team, who face Ukraine: "Regardless of who starts they just need to relax because we can't repeat the first 30 minutes against England. If we had played against a really good side it would have been over."
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