There is a growing discontent among England fans over the respective roles in the side of Jack Wilshere and Dele Alli, the argument largely being based that Wilshere/Alli should play ahead of the other one for the remainder of this tournament.
Aside from the obvious - Wilshere is four years older than the Spurs man - there is a lot more to the Alli versus Wilshere debate than many would allow for. If England play a diamond, like the majority of people seem to agree that they should, there is certainly room for the two of them. The form of Adam Lallana and the experience of Wayne Rooney may suggest otherwise, yes, but, in theory, they can both slot in to the XI – they are not necessarily an either/or debate.
England, to anyone who ignored the questionable commentary, played a diamond against Slovakia. The diamond, beginning with Wilshere and ending with Alli, means there are three central midfield spaces – once the supreme Eric Dier has taken his spot.
The debate, whatever Alan Shearer says, does not revolve around England needing one system or one favoured XI. There is a certain level of horses-for-courses about this and England’s flexibility, although bemoaned, is a blessing. Alli and Wilshere are integral parts of this.
The diamond that Hodgson plays doesn’t quite balance with Alli, Rooney and Lallana, as the Spurs man needs to be closer to the forwards than he is when Lallana plays. Alli, who scored more in the league last season than Wilshere has in his career, is an attacking midfielder. For this reason, he does not balance the midfield when with Rooney and Lallana, whereas Wilshere may well do. However, before this tournament, Wilshere, Alli and Rooney in a diamond midfield would have had the perfect balance, would it not?
Wilshere’s surges from deep, despite his lack of goal threat, are reflected in his dribbles completed per game. The Arsenal midfielder has averaged over two completed dribbles per fixture across his career whereas Alli wants to receive the ball and finish or deliver the killer pass himself. In the attacking phases, Wilshere delivering the ball to the more clinical Alli is an ideal scenario. The club rivalry has clouded judgement and the excellent, technically-gifted Adam Lallana’s need for a place in the side has made it a far more confrontational debate than it needs be.
When you compare Wilshere, from the season before last, to Alli’s debut Premier League campaign, the difference is clear. Alli is largely playing as a shadow striker to Kane, feeding off the attacking scraps and looking to fire shots as quickly as possible. Wilshere is a runner from deep, carrying the ball and looking to play sharp give-and-goes to toy with the oppositions defensive block.
Against Slovakia, for instance, an in-form Wilshere with Alli would’ve been perfect. However, Hodgson’s plans were arguably scuppered by a substantially disappointing Wilshere showing and he brought Alli into the second half as England’s desperation grew. If these two players were in the same club side, it would be about fitting them in the same XI, not competing. Wilshere, whether you deem him a box-to-box player of a deep-lying creator, is far from Alli’s role.
The desire to fit Alli into the side alongside Lallana is noble enough, but these are the two really competing for a position. Lallana and Alli can both only really function in a diamond as the number 10. Although Alli is not afraid to compete defensively, as he showed often for Spurs completing 2.2 tackles per match, is not the best man England have available for a box-to-box role. England either need Rooney to drop right alongside Dier – to accommodate Alli – or consider a change.
The squad is immensely flexible because of Wilshere and Alli and that must be embraced.
There is a continued desire to question change amongst England teams and it is misplaced. Alli and Wilshere are, wrongly, competing for a role in the current diamond. Wilshere could compete for Rooney’s position, whilst Alli’s impact on any team he places in is far-removed from that of Wilshere. An altogether more offensive player, Alli will shoot on sight, whilst Wilshere is about trying to work the perfect chance. Yes, this is largely down to their managers at club level but that is what Hodgson has to work with.
Wilshere is more likely to wriggle through challenges – as proven by completing nearly four dribbles per 90 in 2014/15 – whilst Alli might just produce the Payet-esque screamer to win England a game. England, and the fans, need to thrive in this wonderful flexibility rather than propose some face-off between two players who are not adept in the same roles.