England play Italy in the last of the quarter-finals tomorrow. It’s hard to say who are the favourites; England have done better, but in an overall worse group. It is I think certainly far to say that England will need to come up with a far better performance than they did against Ukraine in the last group match.
In that match England sat back for long periods of time and whilst they did do a good job of soaking up the pressure, they never looked particularly comfortable. They looked weak in the midfield and very weak in attack. The one goal came rather fortuitously and even more fortuitously for Rooney who had been sub-par. He was not helped, however, by the midfielders putting balls into the box that were much better suited for someone like Carroll. I wanted Carroll to start before the match and he probably would have buried a couple of chances that Rooney did not, but the other players on the pitch should have known who was up front and adjusted accordingly. England were also a bit fortunate with a goal not being given against them, but it was a case of two wrongs making a right: the striker had been offside anyway. It was a victory, and ultimately more than they needed with France losing 2-0, but not convincing and it seems unlikely that such a performance will be enough for a win over Italy.
For that match, I think England need to start Carroll alongside Rooney. Rooney looked like he should have come off the bench against Ukraine, but hopefully now he has shaken off some of that rust. He and Carroll offer contrasting options in attack and I think the combination of them will suit England well. The obvious person to leave out would be Milner who has not done much so far, but our midfield looked weak anyway against Ukraine and a 4-3-3 might not help matters. That said, I think part of the reason for the midfield being weak was that they had little desire to attack. The strategy was to sit back and let Ukraine have the ball. A 4-3-3 might give some encouragement to the midfielders to get the ball and go forward. In the end, I would leave out Milner and play Walcott in his stead with Welbeck the unlucky man. (Though a probable sub.) There is a good argument to be made that Walcott’s pace is best used in reserve against tiring defenders, but I think England will need to play at a higher tempo against Italy from the word go and Walcott is a good way to do that.
If England play well, they can certainly win; Italy did not look terribly convincing in their group matches. I would put England slight favourites and am guessing a 2-1 scoreline.