Group D in Euro 2012
Both teams go into their second game of Euro 2012 needing a win after dropping points in their opening matches and the pressure is on to deliver the win that will be vital in progressing from what is shaping up to be a very tight group. With both teams coming off different results, the Swedes unexpected loss to Ukraine whilst England got a largely unexpected point from a hugely disciplined performance against France, it is difficult to predict how they will differ in preparations to a game that could, in the case of Sweden especially, see them eliminated.
With France playing the co-hosts Ukraine earlier in the night, Laurent Blanc’s 22 match unbeaten team will be expected to beat Oleg Blokhin’s team, although they did put in a highly spirited performance against Sweden on Monday and don’t necessarily have to chase a win, the Swedes may be at mercy of being eliminated on the night in Kiev so their hand may be forced into attacking England.
Roy Hodgson will not want to lose this game, but his priority must not be the point he was satisfied with against France on Friday, but the full three points to avoid not losing ground to the other three teams going into Tuesday’s final match-day. Hence, a more assertive, attacking performance will be expected.
England go into the night’s match with a clean bill of health after concern over Martin Kelly’s virus passed in the week, whilst Roy Hodgson did express concern over the fitness of his aged central-midfield duo Scott Parker and Steven Gerrard after their huge effort against France, but they are likely to slot back into the engine room after a few days concerted rest. Wayne Rooney’s suspension makes the striker England’s only absentee.
Sweden come into the game in slightly less settled circumstances, star man Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored Sweden’s goal in Monday night’s defeat to Ukraine, was rated 50-50 to start after missing a practice session on Tuesday, but he is expected to take his place in Erik Hamren’s starting line-up purely because of the mercurial attacking threat he carries.
Johnson, Terry, Lescott, A Cole
Walcott, Parker, Gerrard, A Young
Lustig, Mellberg, Granqvist, Olsson
Larsson, Elm, Kallstrom, Toivanen
Ibrahimovic played in the hole behind Markus Rosenborg against Ukraine and due to the quality of performance he conjured in the defeat; he will be expected to do so again providing he should make it through his injury. England will be careful not to let a defender get drawn out from the back to watch Ibrahimovic, and instead let the AC Milan man become Scott Parker’s man similar to Anatoliy Tymoshchuk’s role for Ukraine on Monday. If Ibrahimovic drifts to the flanks to escape Parker, then the Spurs midfielder will need to hold his position to avoid getting dragged too far away from his midfield partner Steven Gerrard, whilst Ola Toivanen and Rasmus Elm may see an opportunity to attack the vacated space.
Hamren faces a difficult decision of whether to replace Sebastian Larsson, abject against Ukraine, for the more direct Christian Wilhelmsson on the right. Larsson is known for his deep-crossing, which is unlikely to worry two physical centre-backs in Joleon Lescott and John Terry, whilst Wilhelmsson’s direct dribbling ability may be more likely to threaten Ashley Cole in the left-back position. Hamren also replaced Rosenborg for Elmander late on against Ukraine and he also offered an improvement, but the former should stay in the starting line-up.
For England, Hodgson’s main dilemma is how to set up his side with more attacking fluidity and intent, rather than playing on the back-foot like against France. To revert to two strikers is the obvious answer, Danny Welbeck, whilst offering a superb shift, was often isolated against France and could be given support in the form of Andy Carroll who will be a more direct outlet when England are seeking to get the ball into attack quickly. After Andriy Shevchenko scored his two goals from crosses against Sweden in Kiev, Carroll also offers a huge aerial danger in the box.
To fit in Carroll, Ashley Young is likely to be shifted from the attacking midfield position he filled in against France to minimal effect, he looked isolated and poor in the face of Alliou Diarra’s defensive tracking, to the left-wing, where he can offer the more natural dribbling and crossing threat he displays at Manchester United.
With the defensive discipline of James Milner not really needed on the right-flank here, Hodgson may be tempted to go with more pace and creativity on the opposite side in order to balance the two flanks. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could be handed another start after surprisingly being given the nod against the French, but Theo Walcott’s experience at international level could see him get the nod.
The central-midfield battle will be interesting and will possibly decide the match. Sweden often lacked a defensive midfield force against Ukraine, so Danny Welbeck may be charged with dropping deep into the space to link the play off Andy Carroll’s target man striker. Welbeck’s role is important as the two central forwards can’t be too far away from the Parker/ Gerrard axis like Ashley Young was against France. Parker will inevitably stay deep to watch Ibrahimovic and break the play, whilst Gerrard’s aging legs will prevent him breaking forward in the face of Rasmus Elm’s attacking threat, so Welbeck will have to drop off to provide a short ball, rather than stay directly off Carroll, feeding off raking long balls that will see the wingers struggled to get involved.
A lot of the Swedish play went through Elm against Ukraine on Monday and will be charged with being the Sweden string-puller here. The AZ Alkmaar midfielder is eight years Steven Gerrard’s junior and may see his youthful exuberance get the advantage of his direct opponent in the centre. Whilst Gerrard did a good defensive job against France alongside Parker, he will be charged with a more forward role here in order to create more support for the attacking areas, but it’s vital he doesn’t lose sight of Elm’s forward running that sees him pick-up a modest amount of goals for his club.
Alex Oxlade Chamberlain came away with a respectable performance against France, but it was clear that he may have lacked the nous to understand that was requested of him in a reserved role against Martin Debuchy. Whilst this game will see the shackles be released on the flanks as support is given to the strikers, his creation and confidence may see him unlock the Swedish defence, but Theo Walcott’s lightning pace and improvement in final ball as well as six years of international experience, may see the elder Arsenal player preferred over his younger statesmen.
Whilst both can do the same job of attacking the full-back with direct running, they will have to possess the reading of the game to become available in space to pin the full-back, in this case the left-sided Martin Olsson 1 vs 1 with enough room to run at him with clear momentum. With Andy Carroll lurking in the areas Shevchenko got into on Monday, the quality of the final ball will also have to be high.
As always with the enigmatic Ibrahimovic, you don’t really know what to expect of the AC Milan man going into the game in Donetsk. Having voiced his displeasure at playing in the hole to Hamren after the Ukraine loss, the quality of his vision and control will be required in the same position to bring others into play and link the ball up in forward areas. His movement in escaping the attentions of the dogged Scott Parker will be vital to Sweden’s threat on the attack as it will open up gaps for others to drift into in the middle, between the England lines.
Sweden were poor overall against Ukraine even though they missed a few gilt-edged chances that should have at least earned them a draw. England got a vital point against a highly technically-gifted French unit with a hugely organised display, but this will be a more adventurous, attacking showing from Hodgson’s side as he urged his players to take more of a foothold higher up the pitch. England may have enough at the back to nullify the roaming ability of Ibrahimovic whilst also providing the movement, pace and guile on the attack to just edge the Swedes, providing the central-midfield duo of Parker and Gerrard can find the time and space to produce quality balls from deep.
Roy Hodgson’s side to edge it with a goal from their captain breaking from deep and Andy Caroll taking advantage of a weakness of crosses to head home a second. Elmander to set up a nervy finish after coming on for the Swedes late-on.
England 2 (Carroll, Gerrard) Sweden 1 (Elmander)