Martin Keown and Danny Murphy will be working with the BBC during Euro 2016. Here, the former England players discuss their country’s hopes and dilemmas.
Martin Keown: Roy Hodgson needs to work on Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill on the training pitch. We have a weakness of conceding goals from crosses. It’s too early for John Stones. He is one for the future. But we need to protect Smalling and Cahill better. The Leiceseter defenders [Robert Huth and Wes Morgan] get a great deal of protection, we need to do something similar for England. Eric Dier can do that and Dele Alli will do that as well. The goal we conceded against Germany, we got done a little bit because they got into that area just in front of our back four in the build up. We need to protect that because these guys, they can’t have to come out and deal with that and diagonal balls into the box as well.
The ball is always going to come into the box. You can’t be sure that we can stop every cross. So you have to be set up correctly in the box. Don’t be surprised the ball is coming in. If the striker can read it so can I. It’s not enough to say that palyers have formulated their bad habits: you come together as a team, work and iron it out.
Danny Murphy: 100 per cent I think Stones should play. If you’re going to not play him you are going to have to have two centre halves who are really solid and don’t make mistakes, otherwise why are you sacrificing him? He does make the odd mistake by trying to play out but he’s our best footballing centre-half by a mile. I like Cahill and Smalling – they are both solid. Cahill has played in a Championship winning side – but they both make mistakes as well.
It’s not just about this tournament, it’s about the bigger picture. Stones is going to be England’s centre-half permanently, very soon because he’s that good. You can’t not see that. He’s just a superb footballer. He will learn the decision making that Martin is talking about. Smalling has probably been the best of our defenders – but none of them are John Terry or Rio Ferdinand. If you want to play football out from the back and keep possession you have got to have one of your centre halves who can play. Look at Alderwiereld and Vertonghen and Spurs. Stones is the best at that and he’s got to learn not just in friendlies.
Keown: But it’s a gamble though…
Murphy: They are all a gamble…
Keown: I get it with Alderweireld and Vertonghen because they are very good footballers but they are also very good defenders. We don’t know yet about Stones.
Murphy: I’m saying he is good. He can leap, he’s quick, his performance in the Cup semi-final in the second half was incredible. He’s a big game player. He will keep getting better in a better team. In a worse team it’s hard to shine at the back when you’re under pressure. Smalling had a bad spell at Man U – he’s come through that.
Keown: Yes, he’s done well.
Murphy: If you want an England team to evolve and become better on the ball and be able to play against the Spanish without feeling embarrassed play Stones – he’s the best one by a mile.
Keown: These are all options for Roy.
Murphy: Yes, but my point is the bigger picture. If he doesn’t play in this tournament, where does his tournament experience come from?
Keown: But if you’re Roy, you don’t care about the next tournament.
Murphy: Well, he should.
Keown: But Roy has already looked to the future with the youngsters he brought into the last squad [for the World Cup] and we were left exposed by that. Ashley Cole was just jettisoned, Baines comes in – no experience of top-level football. So there is a here and now element to this. Stones, has he earned the right? I don’t think so. It hasn’t been the kind of season we all expected from him. He should be flying now.
Murphy: The other issue is they all prefer playing on the right. None of them are natural on the left. I would put Stones on the left because I think he’s the best footballer, he’ll work it out more quickly. Chris, back in the day at Fulham, really stuggled on the left side. It is an issue. Cahill has always played on the right side of Terry. So which one are you going to move? Whoever he plays is going to be in an unfamiliar position.
Keown: I feel that Cahill should be moved to the left and Smalling on the right because I want him to reproduce his Man United form which is improving. But he played on the right recently and he kept running into trouble – he was almost too confident. So he has got to get the balance right.
Murphy: For me as a central midfielder I want to know which defender is going to be able to find me and quickly and know when I’m in space and know when someone is coming. And Stones is the best at that of the three – even if he makes some errors sometimes. If we want to play out from the back as an international team, you need players who can play. If we don’t – that’s fine – there’s no point playing out from the back.
Keown: I thnk Stones is better suited to play where Dier plays than Dier himself but he hasn’t been given that chance at club level.
Murphy: Martinez has played him there a couple of times.
Keown: Yeah, but when he played against Man U – chasing the game, he was driving out. Maybe that’s his position. But he can’t necessarily be left in a one v one situation – I think he struggles. But you don’t want to be experimenting do you?
Keown: But he’s in the squad. Roy can work with him.
Who would you have in your midfield?
Murphy: It depends what combination we play and who you are playing aginst. People say what would your England team be? Well, who are playing, what time is it, what’s the temperature? Roy will always play someone screening the back four. We played two screening sometimes when I played under Roy. There will be one screening (Dier) and if we play two flying full-backs, Dier can always just drop in and make that a three. He’s comfortable with it, he’s got that relationship with Walker and Rose at Tottenham. I’d be amazed to see anyone but Dier play in there.
Keown: He’s earned the right.
Murphy: It’s about being flexible and having good rotation of positions.
Keown: Roy is open to any system.
Murphy: He’s more flexible now than he was but he’s a manager who sees what players he’s got and adapts. I just hope that we play on the front foot, we use the energy and hunger and desire and freedom of these younger players. What people liked about Germany – it wasn’t necessarily that we won 3-2 in the last minute – it was the way we had a go. People woul have been pleased with that if we’d drawn. We went after them, that’s what the fans want to see. We’ve got great energy and youth on our side and players playing with freedom. As long as we do that and play with fearlessness I think people will back them, And they will take losing to a better team on a given day. But don’t play within yourself.
Keown: Roy creates that doesn’t he? It’s a shared responsibility.
Murphy: Just let them go.
The BBC will provide extensive coverage of Euro 2016 across TV, radio and online from Friday 10th June 2016