How Tottenham Will Drive England Against Russia

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 02: Eric Dier of England during the International Friendly match between England and Portugal at Wembley Stadium on June 2, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 02: Eric Dier of England during the International Friendly match between England and Portugal at Wembley Stadium on June 2, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images) /

Much is being made of Roy Hodgson’s options with his England squad, particularly with his sizable contingent of Tottenham players.

Though Euro 2016 qualifying was a relative breeze — the Three Lions won 10 for 10 of their matches, conceding just three goals and scoring 31 — the tournament is the real test. Their matches against Russia, Slovakia and Wales over the next week will be the first real test of this revamped England side’s mettle.

And revamped it’s been. Only four players from Hodgson’s Euro 2012 squad will be making another appearance this summer. Not surprisingly, England’s squad is the youngest of any of the tournament’s 24 teams.

Hodgson’s willingness to experiment with formations and squad makeup is admirable, but it’s possibly produced a situation where there are simply too many options available to him for Saturday’s opener against Russia.

There’s one thing that’s beyond doubt however: Tottenham’s five representatives will form the core of whatever England XI take the pitch. It might be part of the 4-3-3 formation that Hodgson preferred in the pre-tournament friendlies, or perhaps a 4-4-2 diamond he’s utilized before, particularly in the 3-2 comeback friendly win over Germany back in March.

The popular consensus ahead of Saturday’s match is that Hodgson will once again flip the script, fielding a top-heavy team against a injury-depleted Russia team that will be trying to sit deep.

England - Euro 2016 - Football tactics and formations
England - Euro 2016 - Football tactics and formations /

Keen-eyed Tottenham fans will recognize this as more or less the same formation Mauricio Pochettino favored all season. Eric Dier will help cover the centre-back pair, dropping deep to allow Danny Rose and Kyle Walker to bomb forward from the full-back positions.

Tottenham’s wide defenders will prove crucial here, creating most of the side’s width and allowing Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling to cut inside in support of Harry Kane at centre-forward.

How this formation will possibly differ from Tottenham’s typical gameplan is in center midfield. Dele Alli and Eric Dier are set to team up there, as they did on a few occasions last term for Tottenham before the former found his calling higher up the pitch. Ahead of them, though, will be Wayne Rooney, likely operating in a role closer to midfield than attack.

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The Manchester United legend’s transformation in this regard is neither sudden nor surprising. As he’s aged his skillset has shifted away from leading the line, and more to operating in the hole or even in deeper midfield. Broadly speaking, Rooney will be playing the role Alli typically plays in Tottenham sides: secondary striker in possession, an added body in midfield out of possession.

Alli’s bone-deep tendency to surge forward will likely make it so that he’s higher up the pitch than Rooney more often than not. Against a Russia side who will be forced into fielding their second choice midfield, this shouldn’t too dramatic of an issue.

It will, however, place a good amount of familiar pressure on Dier in the holding midfield role. He will be tasked with picking up Russia’s (no doubt frequent) attempts to counter, closing down breaks before they become a threat to a relatively weak English centre-back pair.

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Half of the parts might be different, but on a deep level this is an England team informed by Tottenham. From it’s youthful slant to it’s high energy full-back play to its reliance on a firm base in midfield, Pochettino’s success has inevitably bred imitators. If Hodgson can wield Tottenham’s weapons half as well as Pochettino, then England might have half a chance of surprising over the next month.