A settled group of players have consistently dominated England selection for over ten years, but with a large number of the 2010 WC squad in their mid-30s at least by 2014 and none having a great time domestically this season, now would seem a natural time to begin to rely on younger players. Against Holland in midweek, for all that an experimental England gave a creditable performance, Holland looked by far the more settled unit, understandably enough. England need to get a group who are used to playing together, probably the reason the Golden Generation have stuck around so long. Richards, Jones, Downing, Young, Welbeck & Sturridge need to get used to being in the team or thereabouts. I’d rather go to the Euros with a younger group and build for the future rather than fail with the same old faces who are only going downhill now.
A back 4 of Richards, Jones, Cahill & Cole would surely perform better than one involving Terry & Ferdinand. England struggled for pace at centre-back in the World Cup and that won’t be remedied, indeed will only get worse without a change of personnel. Rodwell, Wilshere & Cleverly all look ready in central midfield, and for all Scott Parker’s combative nature he is neither the future nor a good enough passer if England are successfully going to dominate possession as they have needed to for years. Sturridge, Welbeck & Carroll seem worth taking & though Rooney would be a gamble because of his suspension for the first 2 games, if he could be made to fire in a tournament again he could make a real difference.
Taking Carroll and Downing would be controversial, not least to Liverpool fans, but Carroll would be there as the battering ram option if you were chasing the game late on and getting nowhere. A last resort, something different. Downing seems to get stick because of the quality of his final ball but I think his technique and quality are fine. The problem for a winger is that if you deliver the ball into the box (even a very good ball) and the centre-half wins it, then it is automatically your fault somehow. Crossing the ball isn’t a very efficient way of creating chances, it’s all a bit hit and miss, which is why Barcelona don’t do it very much. If it’s further controversy you want, I’d also consider taking Michael Carrick, for the same reason as Alex Ferguson keeps playing him in Europe: he keeps the ball, in contrast to Steven Gerrard who is more prone to a ‘Hail Mary’, to borrow a phrase from gridiron. Gerrard has a decent record for England, generally scores a goal or two in tournaments but unless he has a sensational last part of the season and proves he is back to his very best I wouldn’t take him. The attacking midfield role in a 4231 would suit him, he was a success in a similar position when he and Torres were in harness for Liverpool and tearing teams apart, so I wouldn’t rule him out entirely just yet.
Sturridge has an added plus point in his favour that he can play wide in a front 3 (as he usually does at Chelsea) which is a lot more flexible formation than 442. Manchester United had their most impressive recent team with Ronaldo, Rooney & Tevez playing as a constantly rotating 3, and with Sturridge in the side England could do the same, probably with Young as the 3rd in the trio, each switching between either flank and central as play took them. That would make it a lot harder for defenders to mark Rooney than when he’s stuck at the point of the team trying to provide a constant attacking focus on his own and perhaps we’d see more of the talent Rooney displays at club level that way.
Could this group win the tournament? Their lack of experience would tell against them for one thing, and the team would have to become more than the sum of its parts to rival the marvellous current German and Spanish sides. It’s not always the most talented sides who succeed however, and a plan which enables what talent they have to perform as well as they can would certainly mean improvement on recent finals performance. Poor teams have got to the final of international tournaments before so to say it’s impossible would be foolish, but it’s the longest of long shots. Playing the old guard wouldn’t change that, we know what they are capable of, and at least with a fresher squad they have a chance to be better than we think.