How will England plan for Gareth Bale? Five burning questions vs. Wales
England's late 1-1 draw with Russia puts them in a situation in which they need to beat Wales on Thursday to remain on track in their group. Nick Miller runs through the key questions and issues facing Roy Hodgson's side heading into their clash with Gareth Bale & Co. in Lens.
1. Will Roy Hodgson make big changes?
The English tendency to overreact to any performance by the national team was surprisingly absent after the 1-1 draw with Russia that kicked off their European Championships campaign. Most seemed to recognise that while they should have killed the game off and scored much earlier than they did, they played pretty well and on another day would have beaten a profoundly mediocre Russia team.
The problem is still marked and clear, though. On the balance of play and quality of opposition, England should have been much more ruthless and should have won the game comfortably. It begs the question: What, if anything, should they change to face Wales?
Certainly, it would be a mistake to overreact, rip it up and start again. As he displayed in infuriating fashion during the Russia game, Roy Hodgson is not generally one for changing things unless absolutely necessary. Chances are, if England play roughly as well as they did this weekend for the rest of the tournament, they could go a fair way in France, but that doesn't mean there shouldn't be tweaks for this game.
For example, most were crying out for the introduction of Jamie Vardy, whose direct running and penetration would certainly be handy. Could he come in for Raheem Sterling, perhaps? The Manchester City man started the opening game somewhat unexpectedly, and though he got into plenty of threatening positions, he didn't do much once there. Vardy could offer a more incisive option, even if playing slightly out of position on the flank.
2. Is there a case for dropping Wayne Rooney?
There isn't much chance of Hodgson leaving Rooney out entirely. He picked his captain to play in midfield without much evidence that he'd be any good there, and after Rooney's pretty decent performance against Russia, Hodgson is unlikely to drop him now. However, despite that good showing, there's an argument to be made that the England team is better off without Rooney.
Hodgson might want to bring in a different sort of midfielder (more on that later), and it would be harsh in the extreme to drop Dele Alli and brainless to dispense with Eric Dier, while a midfield diamond is probably the best way to incorporate Vardy, and there are better options at the point of that midfield than Rooney. Of all the changes Hodgson is likely to make, this probably isn't one of them, but it's something to consider.
3. Will Harry Kane stay on corner kick duty?
Back in March, England came from behind to beat Germany in a friendly, and the revival was started by Harry Kane's executing a perfect Cruyff turn, creating space for himself in the area and firing into the net. That came after the ball broke to Kane from a corner, something that couldn't have happened against Russia because the Tottenham centre-forward was the man taking those corners.
The sight of a No. 9 on corner duty is curious enough (some reports suggested the England players are baffled) because removing a primary goal threat from a place where he might score goals seems counterintuitive. Perhaps it's not so much that as that Kane simply doesn't seem to be awfully good at taking corners.
Kane took almost as many corners Saturday (six) as he did for Tottenham in the whole of the past season (seven). It was surprising that he took that many for his club, and there's good reason for that. Because corners aren't a particularly productive way to score goals, perhaps this has been a bit of an overreaction, but when a player isn't that good at something and he's better placed somewhere else, a rethink is probably required.
4. Will Kane start?
Even when not taking corners, Kane wasn't quite at his best against Russia, which has led to some suggestions that he might be dropped to face Wales in favour of Daniel Sturridge. This would seem like the sort of excessive overreaction that England don't need and that Hodgson isn't exactly known for, so it would be quite a surprise if he does omit the leading scorer in the Premier League last season.
Sturridge is said to have been very impressive in training since the Russia game, but then again, that was apparently the basis on which Sterling was selected at the weekend. Kane didn't look like the man who has been so impressive for Spurs in his still young career, but to discard him after one mediocre performance would surely be too much.
5. How will England cope with Gareth Bale?
To say Wales are a one-man team is the very definition of a lazy observation, as anyone who watched their victory over Slovakia (or any of their recent games) will attest. However, it would be pointless to pretend they don't have one outstanding individual talent, one England will have to stop to have a comfortable afternoon Thursday.
Gareth Bale provides Wales' most potent attacking threat, which on this occasion could come from the No.10 role as opposed to the centre-forward position he played at the weekend. Hal Robson-Kanu could be available to return as the fulcrum of the attack, which means Bale will be allowed to roam free and create havoc and, therefore, that England have a significant defensive problem on their hands.
One solution could be to bring in another more solid midfielder to play alongside Eric Dier, thereby allowing him to concentrate on keeping track of Bale. The question then is: Who gets left out? The sense is that Hodgson will trust Dier to keep a close eye on the Real Madrid man and hope for the best.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.