With Liverpool in sparkling form and five of England’s starting 11 coming from the Reds, Roy Hodgson seemed to have adopted his tactics accordingly. None of the starters come from a team that is currently relying on a conventional 4-4-2 formation anyway.
Hodgson knew that the Danes would be defensive so he initially went with a 4-3-3 formation. Steven Gerrard was tasked with picking the ball from the back and using his passing range to spread the ball around.
Both full backs had to tuck in because they had more offensive roles to play than usual. Jordan Henderson was required to provide legs back and forth while occasionally driving late into the box. Jack Wilshere had a similar role at the left of a sitting Gerrard, while he had to provide some creativity. The front three of Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling were to rotate and press for the ball up top.
Morten Olsen, the Denmark manager, had to respect his opponents. He employed a 4-4-1-1 formation, mainly to thwart the home team because he had a depleted squad. He particularly bemoaned the absence of Christian Eriksen as the major difference last night.
Nicklas Bendtner had to manage alone up front, while Michael Krohn-Dehli and Emil Larsen flanked him. These wingers were mainly responsible for tracking back the English full backs. William Kvist and Casper Sloth had to protect the back four.
This limited Danish side was aiming to make life difficult for the home team, then pinch something either from a counter or from a set piece.
Rooney and Sturridge, two of England’s rotating front-three were not doing enough defensively when they played wide and Denmark threatened from the full-back areas. Hodgson eventually employed a formation that was more like 4-3-2-1 in response.
The Three Lions can count themselves fortunate to have been up against opponents who sat too deep to allow their full-backs to spring into attack with regularity, because when they did they really exposed the English defence.
In the 38th minute, Sturridge didn’t track back and Glen Johnson had an awkward two-on-one situation. As Gary Cahill moved across to cover for him, he left space in front of goal that Jakob Poulsen used to receive the ball. This could have easily been the opening goal had Jakob Poulsen not dithered.
Sturridge and Sterling were the ones to rotate until Rooney went off, at which point Sturridge took his preferred central role. The forwards did little pressing, so for the better part of the game Denmark comfortably slowed down the tempo of the game. J
Wilshere could not create enough chances in his ‘Coutinho’ role – maybe a slight knock he picked early in the game restrained his performance.
The match eventually improved when Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain all got on as subs. The team had more mobility in it and the Danes were tiring.
They were pockets of success in this game. Gerrard brilliantly switched play with accurate long balls to an offensive-minded Glen Johnson. Sterling tracked back really well from either flank and pressed the ball well.
Ashley Cole didn’t look rusty at all. The Chelsea left-back balanced his work well and created a great chance for Sterling. Shaw also had a great second half when he took over from Cole, and really staked his claim well. But you sense that Hodgson slightly prefers Cole.
Given the form Rooney and Sturridge have been in, it would be nice if Hodgson finds the best tactic to use them effectively. Maybe Rooney can take a ‘Suarez’ role or Sturridge can adapt but something has to be done there. That partnership could be key to England’s success in Brazil.