Hodgson needs to be less pragmatic and more flexible
ENGLAND v LITHUANIA
(Saturday, 3.45am, Wembley Stadium)
Roy Hodgson was a solid, if conservative, appointment by the English FA in 2012.
Fabio Capello's resignation had left England in the lurch ahead of the European Championship.
The Three Lions needed a quick solution, and Hodgson fitted the bill.
He had the international experience of guiding Switzerland, and owned a reputation of getting underdogs to punch above their weight.
He fared creditably. Taking over the reins with just over a month to go before the tournament, he eventually took a relatively ordinary squad into the quarter-finals where they lost to France on penalties.
But that was then.
Three years have passed since, and England have stood still.
The same pragmatic, rigid style of football that was instrumental in their progress to the knock-out stage at Euro 2012 remains a trait of the current side.
True to form, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, often brutally honest in his assessment, didn't mince his words when he commented on Hodgson's 2014 World Cup performance.
When Wayne Rooney and company needed a spark to turn the tide, Hodgson couldn't, or didn't, improvise.
Speaking to Alastair Campbell for his new book "Winners: And How They Succeed", the Chelsea manager said in the Telegraph: "They are losing (to Uruguay in their second group match) and, if they lose, they are out of the tournament, so they have to score.
"They made two changes at 1-0 down. But when Roy Hodgson made these changes - (Raheem) Sterling out, (Ross) Barkley in, then (Adam) Lallana in for (Danny) Welbeck - I couldn't see a strategic change. Same tactical model, same system.
"You are losing 1-0, you need to get a draw at least, so I say take one defender off and play three at the back, put an extra man to midfield/attack.
"So maybe take off (Leighton) Baines and play (Gary) Cahill sweeper, (Glen) Johnson and (Phil) Jagielka marking one each, an extra man to midfield or attack. Then Uruguay have to adapt."
England finished the campaign with one point from three group matches as they made their fastest World Cup exit.
But Hodgson, quite fortunately, kept his job.
In fact, remarkably, his position now looks stronger than ever after a flying start to their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.
The statistics read: Four wins out of four, 11 goals scored and only one conceded. With a points tally double that of their nearest challengers in Group E, Hodgson may have stumbled upon the magic bullet.
Or it could be that the opposition simply don't measure up, which looks more likely.
Slovenia, Switzerland, Lithuania, Estonia and San Marino aren't expected to trouble England in Group E.
Hodgson is expected to mastermind to another victory over Lithuania on Saturday morning (Singapore time) to improve his England record.
But the Three Lions are about to enter a new era as the old guard fall out one by one.
On the cusp of breakthrough are a group of young players as promising as any they have seen in the past decade.
The likes of Harry Kane, Ross Barkley, Nathaniel Clyne and Jordan Henderson now carry the country's hopes on their shoulders.
One is inclined to think that a progressive manager is needed to draw the best out of the lot and take the team to a new level.
However, Hodgson bases his game around a measured, cautious, tried-and-tested approach which critics have described as "predictable".
He hasn't made any significant changes to the brand of football dished out at Euro 2012, as the World Cup last year had shown.
Mourinho is right.
Hodgson lacks the tactical nimbleness to turn things around during matches.
Neither has he shown the desire to step out of the pragmatic shadow that follows him everywhere.
All may look fine and dandy now, with England as good as being given a free pass to Euro 2016 in France.
But, when the tournament proper comes around, he will be found out.
Unless he realises that his outdated tactics will never end a major trophy drought that goes back to 1966.
Roy hits out at 'espionage'
"I hope they are not going to come and blame me if I don’t start with (Harry) Kane and (Wayne) Rooney and say, ‘We had it on your piece of paper’, because they shouldn’t be looking at it in the first place."
- Roy Hodgson, after he was photographed with a piece of paper (below) during training with Kane’s (above) name on it.
Roy Hodgson refused to reveal if he would hand Harry Kane his England debut this weekend, despite evidence which suggested he would throw the young Tottenham striker straight into his starting 11.
Calls for Kane to start England's Euro 2016 qualifier against Lithuania on Saturday morning (Singapore time) intensified last weekend when he scored a hat-trick against Leicester to take his season tally to 29 goals.
Photographers watching Kane's first full training session with the squad on Tuesday seemed to stumble upon evidence that suggested the England manager would do just that.
During the session at St George's Park, they took shots of an England formation scrawled on a piece of paper which Hodgson had in his hand.
In the formation, which was for an attacking drill, Kane started up front alongside captain Wayne Rooney while Andros Townsend, Ross Barkley, Ryan Mason and Theo Walcott were named in a four-man midfield in front of centre backs Phil Jones and Chris Smalling.
Hodgson, clearly unhappy the pictures were taken, said the photographers' actions amounted to "espionage" even though they came from a part of the session which was open to the media.
And the England manager said despite what the piece of paper suggested, he still may not start Kane against Lithuania.
"That is dangerous to do that (assume Kane will start)," the England manager told talkSPORT.
"First of all, it is dangerous to spy on those things at a training session. The fact is that piece of paper is a piece of paper we take out to training because we have to select teams.
"I don't think it's right to suggest that in order to avoid this type of espionage, I have to remember everything I have thought about but we change people around quite often.
"If that is what people want to read into the espionage, that is up to them, but I hope they are not going to come and blame me if I don't start with Kane and Rooney and say, 'We had it on your piece of paper', because they shouldn't be looking at it in the first place."
Regardless of whether Hodgson starts Kane or not - he clearly thinks the 21-year-old is a top-class player.
The England manager marvelled at Kane's progression this year and it is easy to see why he has been impressed.
Kane was written off after disappointing spells at Millwall, Leicester and Norwich. Some at Tottenham were not even convinced he would turn into a Premier League striker.
But he has muscled his way into Mauricio Pochettino's starting 11 and he has repaid him with 29 goals - the biggest total of any English player in the top flight.
Hodgson says the striker has a potentially long and bright future ahead of him, but the former Fulham manager admitted that he is concerned about the public placing too much pressure on his young shoulders too.
"It's fantastic what he has done," Hodgson said. "It's very tough for a young player to come into a top team like Tottenham with demands and expectations, and to shoulder aside people like (Emmanuel) Adebayor and (Roberto) Soldado and make the place your own, and then not just to play well and keep your place but score a lot of goals - that is some achievement.
"But I do really hope people in general will have a more reasonable approach and say: 'Let's give this guy a chance. He is going to have some good and bad games and hopefully he will have 10 or 12 years in the Premier League and England matches in front of him, let's not build him up to the best thing we have ever had or a flop on the basis of a month or two or a couple of games or so'.
"But I am delighted for him. If he gets his chance to play in these games, I am sure he won't let anyone down." - PA Sport.