Hodgson to call on big guns
Roy Hodgson expects to have all his top players available for England's post-season friendlies. It was confirmed over the weekend that Premier League heavyweights Chelsea and Manchester City would meet in St Louis on May 23, just four days after the end of the season, and six before England take on the Republic of Ireland at Wembley. The match in the USA is hardly ideal for Hodgson as it means up to eight members of his squad - although more likely five or six - may not get the rest he would hope for prior to meeting for key fixtures, including a trip to Brazil on June 2. Yet Hodgson has no doubt he is entitled to have the players, even if the situation is slightly more complicated than he thinks. "As far as I understand it, the period of time in May and June are FIFA dates," he said. "When there are FIFA dates and international matches, the first call on the players is to their international teams. "These are two bona-fide matches. "A lot of the teams are playing qualifiers, so I don't think I need have any worries about the players I select coming to play for England. "They are aware that we need to prepare well for the autumn matches." Hodgson's problem is that the games England have scheduled fall outside of the actual international window. Indeed, whilst England are taking on Brazil at the world famous Maracana Stadium, the Spanish domestic season will be drawing to a close. World Cup qualifiers, including Montenegro's home clash with Ukraine, take place the following weekend, with the Confederations Cup, in which Spain, Italy, Brazil and Mexico are amongst the competitors, arranged for later in June. It means Hodgson cannot stop his Chelsea or Manchester City contingent heading to the States, nor any of his other players who may be required for club duties. Little wonder the England coach wants his senior players around this summer. After all, Tuesday's draw in Podgorica left plenty of areas to work on ahead of the four vital autumn games that will determine whether England reach the World Cup without needing the safety net of those hazardous play-offs. "I have not given any thought to the summer," said Hodgson. "You will understand that we have just had two important qualifiers and gone home with four points. "It has been a cul-de-sac for me. Now I have six or seven weeks to concern myself with who plays against Ireland and who goes to Brazil." It was a rather unfortunate use of the phrase cul-de-sac, for that is exactly what England seem determined to head down in their approach to international football. Season after season, England fail to reach their true potential. And almost always it is due to an inability to adapt to the nuances of the international game. Yet again in Montenegro, they showed a startling inability to retain possession against a decent side who given the circumstances could have been expected to perform far better in the second half than the first, when they were completely outplayed. Montenegro's own play showed signs of nerves. Yet they were assisted by England's desire to push forward in search of further reward when they were already a goal ahead. It was an approach lifted straight out of the Premier League, and the reason why England's domestic competition is the most exciting in the world. Sometimes more is required than a simple hunger for goals. Sometimes games need to be closed out, or crowds silenced, possession retained for the sake of it, purely to induce frustration in opposition ranks and make it easier to find gaps yourself. "Our ball retention wasn't too bad against San Marino. Our ball retention wasn't too bad against Brazil," said Hodgson. "Our ball retention in the first-half (against Montenegro) wasn't too bad. "I refuse to accept that just because everyone's judgement is that we didn't play as well in the second half as we did in the first, it is suddenly all about ball retention. "How big a sample are we going to use? Twenty-five or 30 minutes, or half a dozen games? "Maybe we can do it another way. We might forget the second half completely and go back to Brazil or San Marino. "My point is every time the team has a period when we don't play to the high levels of expectation, you don't suddenly start suggesting everything we are doing is wrong. "It might have something to do with our opponents. "We weren't playing a poor team. A lot of those players are playing at the very highest level. "If they were available for transfer, many of the Premier League teams trying to sign them up."
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