England edge past Turkey at the Etihad

With England’s Euro 2016 preparations well and truly underway, Roy Hodgson’s men hosted Turkey at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon in their latest friendly fixture. The last two outings provided mixed results as we came out on top versus Germany before suffering defeat to Holland. In the aforementioned fixture, Eric Dier’s late goal completed a magnificent comeback that handed The Three Lions a 3-2 victory in Berlin. Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane spearheaded England’s attack on that occasion, and following their tantalising form throughout the Premier League season, Hodgson chose to elect for the same forward pairing versus Fatih Terim’s side who sit 13th in the FIFA world rankings.

Their rich vein of form continued and they both managed to get on the scoresheet in a slender 2-1 victory. With only 2 minutes on the clock, Harry Kane handed England the lead following neat combination on the edge of the opposition area between Raheem Sterling and Delli Alli. The visitors did then manage to level the tie on 14 minutes as Volkan Sen profited from a Joe Hart mistake. He teed up Hakan Calhanoglu who poked the ball into an unguarded net. Despite a below par display from The Three Lions, they did manage to seal a 2-1 victory on 83 minutes via Jamie Vardy who pounced on a loose ball following a Gary Cahill header. 

England attack during the second half. (Courtesy of Alex Smith).

My Thoughts…
In comparison to the performance versus Germany that caused numerous England fans to wax lyrical about our chances in France, this display perhaps brought us back down to earth. When we took the lead almost immediately I was expecting us to control affairs, but to my frustration, we failed to gain any momentum against a fairly average Turkey outfit. Apart from a few positives, it was a largely disappointing showing that has lessened my optimism somewhat. However, I am not one to say that ‘we won’t get anywhere if we can’t beat Turkey’ as I know that tournament football is completely different.

The decision to start Jack Wilshere was, in my opinion, a very smart decision by Roy Hodgson. With the injury-prone playmaker restricted to very little playing time at Arsenal throughout the domestic season, he needs to prove his fitness to cement a seat on the plane. Getting an hour of international football under his belt before being replaced was certainly beneficial, but he looked way off the pace in the centre of the park. One man that did put in an exceptional stint in that area was Eric Dier. The Spurs holding midfielder looked comfortable and assured in quelling any danger, and his emergence onto the international stage has been fully deserved. 

Of course, another plus that can be taken is the amount of pace that we possess going forward. Although our finishing was ineffective and the opposition goalkeeper remained relatively untroubled throughout, we do look dangerous on the counter attack. Jamie Vardy did look a frustrated figure for the large part of the game, but yet again, he popped up with a goal that proved to be the winner. Raheem Sterling also took responsibility on the ball and he looked incredibly lively down the flanks, and he has certainly given the manager something to think about.

As expected, it was the defensive side of our game that questioned once more and our frailties were exploited. That’s the major worry for us going into the tournament, are we good enough defensively? For me, we will struggle against the bigger nations and we will be left relying on goals to pull us over the line. Fine margins can prove to be the difference at this level and the likes of John Stones are incredibly suspect and naive at times. Our lack of experience in that area allowed Turkey plenty of opportunities and I’m just hoping we iron out any weaknesses before heading to France.

With two friendlies still left to be contested against Australia and Portugal respectively, we will be looking to pick up positive results to boost confidence. Avoiding injuries is also critical and, as a result, intensity levels from the players may be reduced. The quick turn around sees us in action again on Friday and it will be interesting to see what changes are made to the starting eleven. Roy certainly has some difficult decisions to make, and with three players from the provisional squad yet to be omitted, places are very much up for grabs. 

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