Amidst all the controversy surrounding Rio Ferdinand and his decision to pull out of the England squad due to a “pre-planned training programme,” we must remember that England actually have two fairly important World Cup Qualifiers on their hands, the results of which should by no means be taken for granted. The Three Lions come up against San Marino on Friday in Serravalle, while they must also travel to Podgorica to face Montenegro on Tuesday, in what surely must be considered as the tougher task. This post will aim to provide two brief tactical previews, concentrating mainly on the second game when England face up to the group’s top team.
Possible line-up: Simoncini; Valle, Benedettini, Bollini, Cervellini; Palazzi, Vannucci, Cibelli, Coppini; Rinaldi, Vitaioli (4-4-2)
Unlikely to be the most testing of encounters, England must nevertheless ensure they do not lose concentration against the European minnows. Joint-bottom of the FIFA rankings (207th) with the Turks and Caicos Islands and Bhutan, San Marino have the terrible record of P115 W1 D3 L111 GF16 GA465 (no typos). That works out to conceding, on average, just over 4 goals a game, an astonishing record. Their sole victory came against fellow minnows Liechtenstein in a friendly back in 2004, when Andy Selva (the only professional Sammarinese player) scored the only goal of the game.
Under their manager Giampaolo Mazza, San Marino will look to line up in a 4-4-2 formation with two defensive blocks and Rinaldi playing off Vitaioli up front. Mazza will want his team to play a counter-attacking style, with this seemingly being the most likely way of scoring their 1st goal of the qualifiers so far. Not much at all is known about San Marino, and they are essentially a team made up of part-timers and therefore I am going to switch the focus to England.
This is how I expect England to line up, perhaps with a couple of changes; Baines could play instead of Cole, and Carrick will probably take Lescott’s place.
With numerous players out due to suspension or injury, this match provides a great chance for some to show their worth. For example, Chris Smalling and Tom Cleverley will look to impress, and although the latter has been starting for England of late, he is surely just warming Wilshere’s spot until the Arsenal midfielder returns from an ankle injury. As England are expected to dominate possession throughout, Cleverley will see a lot of the ball and this could give him ample opportunity to show off his playmaking abilities. As for Smalling, he has been given little time to shine in his favoured centre-back spot at Man United this season, and even though he may start here, it is unlikely it will be his most difficult of games. Alongside him will be his club colleague Michael Carrick, still unable to force himself into England’s midfield despite some giving some brilliant performances for Man United this season.
Up front there should be another Manchester United pairing of Rooney and Welbeck. Welbeck has scored just one goal in the Premier League this season, a record which I’m sure he’ll be very disappointed about. For a central striker this is frankly a terrible tally and he will have to improve if he is to have more playing time in the red shirt of his club. As for Rooney, despite a tough couple of weeks he has looked impressive in his last 2 outings, scoring 2 goals in the process. He will look for space between the lines and will aim to provide Welbeck with plenty of goalscoring chances, as well as looking wide for the wingers and full-backs.
Theo Walcott is odds-on to start as the right-winger, even though he continues to suggest his strongest position is as a centre-forward. More direct than in his younger days, Walcott will look to make his favoured diagonal runs in between the left-back and centre-back, leaving space for Glen Johnson to make his trademark rampaging runs up the line from right-back. On the other hand, Manchester City midfielder James Milner will be asked to play a slightly more defensive role on the other side, particularly as Leighton Baines is a very attacking full-back and will expect some defensive support from Milner. Furthermore Milner is a right-footer playing on the left and therefore is unlikely to be a touchline-hugging crosser you’d expect of a “winger.”
This is undoubtedly going to be yet another one-sided match which even San Marino fans will concede. Their coach Mazza even said thus; “The result is not what matters to us. If it was I would not have been in this job for 15 years. We are usually certain to lose so it’s just a question of how many we concede.” It remains to be seen whether they will score their first goal of the campaign, and it is notable that they scored within 8.3 seconds of their last home game against England after a misplaced back pass from England’s now under-21 coach Stuart Pearce. Hodgson will expect nothing less than a clean sheet and few goals to boot, as will England’s fans too.