I was very interested to hear Russia’s goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev this week say that they had been pleased to be grouped with England, of all the top seeds, at the European Championship.
Before England’s last three games, I had higher hopes that we might prove Akinfeev and Russia wrong and perhaps even reach the semi-finals. Now, I’m more inclined to be braced for disappointment.
Performances in those three warm-up games were not great; in fact, they weren’t even good. They were scrappy and experimental; the only good thing was that England kept up a winning habit.
Yet with hand on heart, from these fixtures against Turkey, Australia and Portugal, Roy Hodgson’s team does not look good enough to become champions of Europe for the first time.
How will England line up?
The problem is this: I don’t think anyone would put money on what team or formation Roy will plump for. England are short on pattern; inexperienced both as a group and in the way they will play.
I’m slightly confused whether this is meant to be a team for now, or one to build towards the next World Cup.
We’ve brought the average down, but man for man I don’t think the squad is better than those which have gone to recent major tournaments – and many of those had a clearer idea of how they were going to play.
England’s issue is they don’t dictate games. If you win the battle for midfield, there’s a good chance you’ll win the match, but I don’t see us doing that at the moment.
What to do with Rooney?
The other poser for Hodgson is related: what to do with Wayne Rooney. England’s captain is absolutely key; we must not let him be a passenger. Yet I’m not sure Roy knows how best to use him.
I honestly believe the only role Rooney can now perform in international football is in central midfield, where he can make the most of his technique and ensure England use the ball well.
He looked good for Manchester United in the FA Cup final in a deeper role, and I’d like to see him play further back still for England, alongside Eric Dier in a 4-2-3-1.
Dele Alli, Jack Wilshere and Raheem Sterling could play behind Harry Kane, Rooney could swap with Wilshere, and it would be protective enough while keeping the effective Alli-Kane axis.
Who will lift the trophy?
Hosts France are my favourites because they have very good players, a history of doing well with home advantage and in Didier Deschamps a coach who knows what’s required.
Germany are always great in tournaments, regardless of which XI they field, so they are up there in my eyes, but behind France.
I hope I’m wrong and that England switch on the magic once the tournament starts, and Saturday’s opener in Marseille against Russia will certainly give us a clearer idea of which players are ready to step up.
That first game will be vital, though. Winning would be a major boost and one that England could really use. A poor result and performance, though, and panic could set in for the crunch Wales fixture next week.