Why optimism abounds for England ahead of Uruguay clash

The Rio Report

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The post-match reaction to England's opening match defeat to Italy was one of unfamiliar optimism and realism. The Three Lions are generally slammed after any loss but the nature of the performance from Roy Hodgson's side was met more with praise than criticism - perhaps aside from Wayne Rooney's role in the 2-1 reverse.


With Uruguay making a thoroughly disappointing start to their World Cup campaign against Costa Rica, there seems to be a returning confidence from the fans and, to an extent, the English media. Oscar Tabarez's side were without star man Luis Suarez in their opener - with the striker since claiming that he is fully fit for Thursday's encounter - but didn’t live up to what were perhaps inflated opinions of a team that struggled to even reach this stage.

Uruguay finished fifth in CONMEBOL qualifying, forcing them into a play-off with Jordan having finished behind a capable but unspectacular Ecuador side on goal difference. It was Suarez's 11-goal contribution - the joint highest en route to the World Cup - that assured their place in said play-off and, as obvious a statement as it is, his fitness will have a huge bearing on this match. Given that he wasn't even risked, or given a chance to prove any sort of match fitness from the bench against Costa Rica, his match sharpness may suffer.

On the opposite side the major talking point seems to be whether Wayne Rooney should keep his place in Hodgson's XI, with many quick to pile onto the United man's back. The forward started wide on the left against Italy but his tendency to drift inside left Leighton Baines exposed and Cesare Prandelli's men exploited that. If England are to succeed on Thursday, Rooney would be best deployed in a central position, for more reasons than one.

Uruguay's fairly rigid 4-4-2 system sees the vast majority of their attacking forays come down the flanks - just 22% of their attacking touches last time out came down the central third of the pitch. After their opening defeat to the team deemed to be Group D's weakest link, they'll have to play on the front foot against England.

Nevertheless, the central midfield partnership of Walter Gargano and Arevalo Rios will likely continue to sit deep as a shield to the back four. The full-backs - with Alvaro Pereira set to replace his suspended namesake Maxi - will be tasked with bombing on in support of the wingers. To have any chance of exploiting chances on the counter, England may be best served by playing those likely to stick to the flanks against Tabarez's side.

With that in mind Hodgson may well pick the players he deems best at defending attacks down the wings whilst also offering pace on the counter. The ideal candidates seem to be Raheem Sterling, Danny Welbeck and - fitness depending - Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

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A look at England's average player positions from the match against Italy - admittedly skewed somewhat by the changing of positions of the attacking trio behind Sturridge throughout the match - shows that England struggled to offer too much of a threat out wide. Meanwhile, Uruguay's positions from their match against Costa Rica indicate just how high up the pitch their wingers operate. If England can exploit a lack of protection in wide areas as Italy did against them, they may well profit.

Welbeck doesn't offer quite the same direct threat from wide areas as Sterling but he may get the nod due to his impressive defensive work rate. Win the ball high up the pitch and England will enhance their opportunities on the counter. No England player made more tackles against Italy than the United forward (3), despite the fact that he was withdrawn from proceedings in the 61st minute.

If the wingers will hope to have some joy, Sturridge will certainly feel confident of adding to his World Cup tally if he can get isolated against club-mate Sebastian Coates, who may well come in to replace the injured Diego Lugano.

The young centre-back is certainly capable at his best but after a lengthy spell on the sidelines - only recently picking up some game time in his homeland on loan to Nacional - England will look to make the most of any ring rustiness from the hefty defender, who last started a competitive match for Liverpool over a year ago.

The order of the day may seem to be stopping the threat of Cavani and Suarez but the Three Lions certainly have weapons of their own to hurt Uruguay on the counter. Apart from Diego Godin, Uruguay have certainly proven to be suspect defensively. While keeping the two up front contained will no doubt be key, England should have confidence in their ability against a side that have had some evident weaknesses for some time now.

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.

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