Needing just a point to secure qualification to the knock-out stage, Roy Hodgson is prepared to gamble on England’s tournament progression by dropping captain and star performer Wayne Rooney for his side’s Group B decider against Slovakia.
An England defeat at Saint Etienne may well spell impending elimination from the competition, as despite qualifying from third place in the group, England would be likely to face either Spain or old rivals Germany in the next round.
Hodgson is clearly unfazed by the daunting prospect of a heavyweight draw and is set to make up to six changes to the starting lineup that prevailed in a memorable 2-1 victory over Wales. The England coach is evidently confident that a refreshed side will be able to provide the same level of performance, despite lacking some one of the squad’s most influential figures.
England will be expecting nothing less than victory against Slovakia, an outfit beaten by Wales, who themselves were significantly outclassed by England. Topping the group would secure a third-placed opponent for the next round, allowing for a far smoother transition into the latter stages of the competition.
After impressing in the two opening fixtures, Rooney is set to be replaced by Liverpool man Jordan Henderson, who has now fully recovered from the knee injury which ruled him out for a month towards the end of Liverpool’s domestic season. Rightfully, Jack Wilshere will also be integrated into a revamped midfield three, with Eric Dier retaining his spot as the midfield anchor.
Rooney has never been a character to appreciate spending time on the bench, though the Manchester United man reiterated his faith in the depth of the England squad:
“Everyone has seen the quality of players which we mentioned before the tournament,
“We have a squad of 23 and, whoever the manager decides to play, we have players who can change games as they did against Wales.
“All of the strikers are goalscorers and, as this season has shown, they will score. We have good-quality players who can score goals, so it’s important we create the chances for them to do that.”
England relinquished their hard-earned lead over Russia in their opening fixture after the captain was substituted, conceding late-on in proceedings, partially due to a lack of leadership and experience on the pitch. As the projected line-up stands, the combined caps of England’s midfield and attackers will be 120, just seven more than the 113 boasted by Rooney, England’s all-time top scorer.
With injury concerns looming over both Wilshere and Henderson, it’s a particularly bold move for Hodgson to start both in such a vital fixture. Perhaps more prevalently, Rooney’s omission may result in a void of creativity in the England midfield.
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The captain has been thriving in his new midfield role, growing in confidence with each game. An additional fixture would surely have provided yet another opportunity for Rooney to fully acclimatise to his new role in the England setup, before facing a more established adversary in the knockout rounds.