Belfast Telegraph

Marcus Rashford is a boost but England have no case for defence

EURO 2016

By Mark Ogden

There should be no concerns over England's ability to put the ball in the net at Euro 2016, judging by the attacking talent in Roy Hodgson's 23-man squad.

Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy scored 49 Premier League goals between them last season, Wayne Rooney continues to deliver and Daniel Sturridge and Marcus Rashford will offer mercurial ability and the element of surprise respectively when England begin their Group B campaign.

Every silver lining has a cloud, however, and while the Class of 2016 arguably possess England's sharpest cutting edge since Euro 96, the defensive issues which proved so corrosive at the World Cup in Brazil remain.

Hodgson's squad is imbalanced due to the feast or famine nature of the players available.

Although England cruised through qualification with a 100 per cent record in Group E, scoring 31 goals and conceding just three, the standard of opposition was lacking to say the least.

But in the four preparation games this year - against Germany, Holland, Turkey and Australia - England have failed to keep a single clean sheet, conceding six goals in four games.

Rewind to Brazil two summers ago and the same inability to bolt the door at the back led to group stage elimination.

Can it be a different story in France? England will benefit from the injury-enforced absence of Russia's creative force Alan Dzagoev when the two teams meet in Marseille on June 11, but shackling Gareth Bale when they face Wales in Lens five days later will be a challenge.

On the right, both Kyle Walker and Nathaniel Clyne lack the defensive discipline required at the highest level, with Danny Rose and Ryan Bertrand also compromised by their inexperience.

Slovakia's Marek Hamsik will attempt to pick holes between England's midfield and defence in St Etienne on June 20, but will Chris Smalling, Gary Cahill and John Stones be able to measure up when tested by an Antoine Griezmann, Thomas Muller or Robert Lewandowski?

It is a different story at the other end of the pitch. Kane offers goals, strength and awareness, Vardy provides blistering pace, Rooney will deliver experience and nous.

Sturridge is regarded as a world-class goalscoring talent by the manager, while Rashford travels to France in incredible form and with the advantage being able to run directly at defenders either out wide or through the centre.

Hodgson's midfield selections could rebound on the manager, however, due to the risks of taking Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson with the pair only recently returning to fitness. Eric Dier offers versatility and James Milner consistency. Danny Drinkwater and Andros Townsend have missed the cut.

Plugging the holes at the back is the issue and success or failure is likely to boil down to the success or failure of the defence.

Belfast Telegraph