LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 28: Danny Welbeck warms up with Phil Jones during the England Training and Press Conference at Wembley Stadium on February 28, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Roy Hodgson named his England squad for Euro 2012 on Wednesday and quite predictably, debate followed. The obvious points of discussion centered around John Terry's inclusion likely resulting in Rio Ferdinand's exclusion, Micah Richards being dropped (again), and Liverpool's mercurial Andy Carroll being brought into the side -- which perhaps led many to infer this being the reason for Peter Crouch not being included. It may not be obvious -- well the Rio situation is -- but there are Manchester United angles into all of these much talked about topics. These choices hint at the roles that Hodgson may ask the United quartet of Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Ashley Young, and Phil Jones to play in when the tournament begins.
First off, let's very quickly discuss the tactics that Hodgson is likely to deploy because that may provide insight into what he is aiming for *. He has recently spoke of his preference for 'a point of reference' (a classic target man), whether that be in a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 system. In the 4-4-2, the England manager likes that there is somebody in close support to the lead striker so that there's 'someone to threat the back of the defence'. In the 4-3-3, 'the threat to the back of defence has to come from midfield' so 'you need midfield players bursting forward'. He likes his central-midfielders to 'protect the back four and they're also going to be the catalysts for attacks'. Hodgson's 'wide players are the ones you're looking for to use spaces'. His back four is fairly standard. What might this mean to Hodgson's quartet of United players? I'll try to explain after the jump.
Wayne Rooney: As you're probably aware, Rooney is suspended for the first two group-stage matches. He's England's best player so he will come right into the side when the final group-stage match versus co-host Ukraine arrives. Hodgson has only selected one 'point of reference' in Carroll and it's uncertain at this point whether he will first-choice or not. If he is, then Rooney could play underneath him in a 4-4-2 system. If Carroll is a Plan B sort of player, then Wazza could lead the line in attack as a modern number 9 in a 4-3-3ish system. Rooney could also play in behind Welbeck in a 4-4-2 and again, Carroll can be a Plan B tactical option off the bench. One thing is certain though -- when the suspension leash is taken off the United striker, he will feature.
Danny Welbeck: Only four strikers were chosen by Hodgson -- the only one not mentioned thus far is Jermaine Defoe -- and with Rooney suspended for England's opening two matches, it's likely that Welbeck plays a vital role. He certainly had a better season in comparison to Carroll and Defoe and it's reasonable to deduce that he will start at least a game for England -- likely more though. Welbeck's all-around game and versatility allows him to be a reasonable option to lead the line in a 4-3-3 or play in behind of Carroll in a 4-4-2. He's even an option to be deployed out wide in attack -- better as a wide forward in 4-3-3 though than as a wide midfielder in 4-4-2. This should be a great learning experience for Danny.
Ashley Young: It's hard to find a winger that better utilizes movement so that he can 'use spaces'. Young's footballing IQ is not lauded nearly enough. In terms of quality, Young is England's best option out wide as well. The Englishman is versatile enough to play on either flank, or even in the hole behind a lead striker, but out wide to the left appears to be his best position at the moment. He's probably the best source of crosses for Carroll too. If you're a bookie, you'd present unappealing odds for Young to be Hodgson's first-choice left winger. In a 4-4-2, Young is responsible defensively and if he's pushed a bit higher in a 4-3-3, he's a goalscoring threat as a wide forward with his trademark far-post curlers while cutting in from the left.
Phil Jones: The 20-year-old will either be England's starting right-back or Hodgson's utility man from the bench. Glen Johnson is his competition at right-back and while the Liverpool man certainly has the experience factor on his side, the United lad is better defensively. England is only bringing three central-defenders on the plane and one of them, Gary Cahill, is an injury concern. Therefore, Jones could possibly see time in central-defense and at the very least, he'll be counted on as cover there. The energetic youngster will also be a combative option in central-midfield, especially when Hodgson decides to deploy three of them in difficult midfield battles. Just as it'll likely be for Welbeck, this should be a tremendous learning opportunity for Jones. As long as he stays away from John Terry.