Carroll and Welbeck set to head England strike force


ROY HODGSON is set to hand Andy Carroll his full competitive England debut alongside Danny Welbeck in a bold new-look strike force against Sweden this evening as he seeks to exploit vulnerability at the heart of the Scandinavians’ defence.

The duo, an untried partnership at senior level, will operate with Ashley Young switching to the left and the teenage midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain dropping to the bench in the only change from the draw against France.

The Liverpool striker’s competitive career at this level comprises one minute as a substitute in the qualifying victory over Wales in September 2011. But he has impressed in flashes and helped set up the only goal in last month’s win in the friendly against Norway.

That game in Oslo, Hodgson’s inaugural match in charge and Carroll’s first for England in eight months, had been arranged by the manager’s predecessor Fabio Capello with tonight’s meeting against the Swedes in mind.

Erik Hamren’s side have conceded headed goals regularly in recent matches, including twice to Andriy Shevchenko when subsiding to a 2-1 defeat to Ukraine earlier this week, prompting England to tweak their options.

Carroll and Welbeck operated together in training at the Olympic Stadium last night in an intensive drill that had the forwards attacking the six-yard box as Young and Stewart Downing from the left, and James Milner and Theo Walcott from the right, pinged a succession of crosses into the area. The exercise also had captain Steven Gerrard, a deep-lying midfielder against France alongside Scott Parker, charging forward in an attempt to reach the centres himself, an attacking brief he enjoys at Liverpool.

“The things we work on, quite frankly, should allow us to exploit weakness in any team,” said Hodgson. “It is not necessarily a weakness to find crosses hard to deal with if the crosses are of a very good quality. Certainly the first goal that Ukraine scored was a very good quality cross . . . from Andriy Shevchenko . . . and a quality finish.

“In all the clubs I have worked at I have always done a lot of work on players getting in crossing situations and movement for crosses. Let’s hope the message we are trying to put across will help us in that area because if we are going to get behind a team like Sweden, who are very compact centrally, there is no doubt getting down the wings and in behind them in the wide areas will be an important facet of our play. But I am not worried about our attacking play. We have the quality of players and people who will score.”

Carroll has been capped four times, his England career having stalled over the past 18 months as his club form drifted following his €35 million move from Newcastle to Liverpool. A late flurry of goals, and an eye-catching performance against Chelsea as a substitute in the FA Cup final, offered a reminder of his power and earned him inclusion in Hodgson’s squad.

There is an acceptance that England must make better use of possession than they did in Donetsk and attempt to unsettle their opponents with greater urgency.

“Everyone’s role maybe changes slightly,” said Gerrard. “With all due respect to Sweden, they are not France . . . you will see a better performance going forward.”

England defeated Sweden for the first time since 1968 in a friendly last November, in what proved to be Capello’s final game in charge, though only Joe Hart and John Terry of the side expected to start in Kiev began that game. Hodgson can at least point to his own Swedish connections having cut his managerial teeth with Halmstad and Malmo.

“They do the important things in football well,” said Hodgson of his opponents. “They defend well . . . And, of course, in players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Johan Elmander, they have players that can finish things off. They are a good team doing what needs to be done and we have to be prepared for that.”

Guardian Service