Is Spurs' influence on England a replica of Liverpool's in 2014?
Team chemistry has been gaining increased importance in international football, perhaps after recent title-winning nations seemed to have been built on the backs of their most successful club side. Spain’s all-conquering sides from 2008-2012 were based on a hugely successful Barcelona outfit; then managed by Pep Guardiola, while Germany’s World Cup triumph in 2014 contained much influence from Guardiola’s Bayern Munich side of 2013/14. This trend has certainly not been missed by England boss Roy Hodgson.
Similar to the build up to that World Cup, there has been an unexpected challenger for the Premier League title in the run up to Euro 2016. Both title challenging sides had a core of English players, with their success providing Hodgson with a possible formula to replicate in his attempts to forge a strong chemistry within the national side.
Back then, Brendan Rodgers’ (almost) all-conquering Liverpool side seemed to be storming to their first Premier League title, with an English core of Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge all starring for the Reds, and full-backs Glen Johnson and Jon Flanagan rounding up the English contingent.
The then-skipper of club and country was at the base of the diamond, with young star Sterling at the tip, while Henderson buzzed about in the centre of the park. Sturridge produced his best form alongside the mercurial Luis Suarez, as both established such a productive relationship that the media coined their partnership ‘the new SAS’.
Hodgson did not opt for Rodgers’ 4-4-2 diamond, but instead tried a 4-2-3-1 formation, probably as the England boss did not have the world-class talent of Suarez. In Hodgson’s variation of Liverpool’s class of 2013/14, Gerrard did sit the deepest, while Henderson used his energy to get up and down the pitch, albeit from a deeper position alongside his skipper. Sterling; at least for the first World Cup group match against Italy, retained his spot as the No.10, Sturridge led the line, while Johnson took up his customary role at right-back.
The biggest difference for Hodgson here of course, was the use of two inside forwards to replace a central midfielder – either Joe Allen or Philippe Coutinho in Liverpool’s case – and an out-and-out attacker. Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck took up those inside forward roles for the Italy game, with Rooney subsequently swapping with Sterling for the tournament-ending loss to Suarez’s Uruguay.
England’s group-stage exit in 2014 was attributed by some to Hodgson’s failure to properly utilise the in-form Liverpool quintet. What would have happened if Hodgson did use the 4-4-2 diamond favoured by Rodgers that year? He could have tried to establish a strike partnership between Sturridge and Rooney (or even Welbeck), while the likes of Jack Wilshere, James Milner, Adam Lallana and even veteran Frank Lampard or then-prospect Ross Barkley could have partnered Henderson in the midfield two ahead of Gerrard.
Might England have reached the last 16? Of course we’ll never know, but those lessons learned could be applied to this year’s group as they look to mount an unlikely bid for the Euro 2016 title.
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