‘An injury to one player gives a chance to another’. It is a managerial cliché, rarely believed by anyone, but there could be a silver lining in England’s injury crisis in Rio de Janeiro tonight. With Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck and Andy Carroll injured, and Jermain Defoe carrying Achilles-heel damage, the opportunity arises to play Theo Walcott where the Arsenal youngster wants to play: at the head of the attack.
Walcott has only scored once for England (in Ukraine at Euro 2012) since his memorable hat-trick in Zagreb five years ago, but had a rich spell of form playing in central attack for Arsenal this season. Moreover, the conditions will be right for him in the Maracana. England can expect to spend much of tonight’s game playing deep as Brazil keep possession which means when England do win the ball there will be space in behind the home defence for Walcott to use his pace to break into. It would also enable Hodgson to deploy Wayne Rooney in the ‘No.10 playmaker role’ he filled in the second half against Republic of Ireland and which suits Rooney’s all-round talents better than leading the line.
In Rooney Frank Lampard and Michael Carrick England would have a trio of players capable of hitting early passes to Walcott. This does not mean a return to the ‘dark age’ direct football that England were bizarrely accused of playing by Gary Lineker in midweek. Counter-attacks are a key part of the modern game and early passes into space are a long way from full-backs bashing the ball to a big man and midfielders battling for the ‘second ball’ knock-down. Not that there was any sign of that against Ireland at Wembley either.