With little over a week to go until England’s Euro 2016 campaign gets underway, we still don’t seem to be any nearer to knowing what team will line up to face Russia in Marseille on June 11th.
Roy Hodgson has tinkered and trialled with a handful of players in several different formations, but, so far, nothing seems to have quite stuck for the Three Lions, who often look lopsided and, at times, dangerously narrow.
Thursday night’s friendly against Portugal presented Hodgson with one final opportunity to experiment with his squad before jetting off to France, but, despite narrowly winning 1-0 thanks to a late Chris Smalling header, things didn’t quite go to plan.
The England boss fielded what will most likely be the team that features prominently at the Euros – with the exception of one or two players, particularly in midfield – but was left with more questions than answers after witnessing a lacklustre performance from his side.
The biggest question facing Hodgson is how he is to play Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy together in the same team.
The game against Portugal saw the trio feature alongside one another for the first time, with Kane and Vardy leading the line just in front of Rooney, who, on paper at least, operated as a number 10 at the top of a 4-4-2 diamond.
Despite performing well when dropping deeper, particularly in the second half, Rooney was too often instructed to press far forward, which split Kane and Vardy and forced them out wide.
As a result, last season’s two most prolific goalscorers were operating more like wingers than centre-forwards, resulting in them having to track back and defend due to the narrowness of England’s midfielder three.
Vardy would later make way for Raheem Sterling after making very little impact in the hour he spent on the pitch, whilst Kane started to drift further inwards but was still too often found taking up positions wide on the right flank instead of bustling around inside the penalty area.
England exhibited similar problems in midfield, where Hodgson still has a big decision to make regarding which central midfielders to start in front of the ever-dependable Eric Dier.
The Tottenham Hotspur youngster has been excellent all season and is arguably one of the first names on the team sheet, and the most obvious choice would be to play Dele Alli, his domestic teammate, in one of the two central midfield roles due to the understanding enjoyed by the duo.
However, against both Portugal and Turkey he didn’t look at his most comfortable, despite setting up England’s opening goal against the former when he threaded the ball through to Kane.
The partnership that he has struck up with the striker has proven to be one of Europe’s deadliest, but Alli feels wasted operating deeper in midfield.
The 20-year-old has consistently impressed in his number 10 role at Tottenham, and it is there that he needs to be deployed if he is to be at his most effective.
To fully get the most out of both players, the distance between Alli and Kane needs to be as little as possible, with the former seeking out pockets of space around the edge of the box whilst the latter makes runs behind the defence.
The problem that this presents is that it leaves Hodgson with a big question to answer: where to play Rooney?
The England manager has been incredibly loyal to his captain, despite a less-than-stellar season for the 30-year-old, and looks unlikely to drop him for any of their group stage games, but, if Alli is pushed further forward, where does that leave the Manchester United man?
As was the case on several occasions both this season and last, Rooney does not look entirely comfortable playing as a central midfielder, and, despite his flaws, the best place for him certainly seems to be at the tip of a diamond or as an out-and-out striker.
In the second half against Portugal, he occasionally dropped slightly deeper when searching for the ball, and this allowed Kane and Vardy to drift inside and become more effective.
However, if Hodgson wants to play Alli, who certainly deserves a place in the team and is wasted as a central midfielder, then the only option is to drop either Kane or Vardy and replace them with Rooney.
With 49 goals between them, as many as the entire Manchester United squad managed in the Premier League last season, that seems a ludicrous decision to make, but it may be one that Hodgson ends up doing if he really is adamant that his captain deserves a place in the starting line-up.
Rooney’s inclusion arguably forces England out of shape no matter what formation they attempt to utilise, particularly as Hodgson seems certain to deploy his players in either a 4-4-2 diamond or a 4-4-3.
In the latter, Rooney can realistically only start as a centre-forward, which means that, if they are to feature as well, Kane and Vardy must take up the wide positions in which they look so uncomfortable.
Sterling would be a natural replacement for Vardy on the left – particularly after coming off the substitutes’ bench to set up England’s only goal against Portugal – whilst Adam Lallana is competent enough on the right, but, again, it requires Hodgson to withdraw both Kane and Vardy to accommodate Rooney, something that seems ridiculous to do under the current circumstances.
The most frustrating aspect of Hodgson’s current quandaries is that England are clearly blessed with an abundance of attacking talent, and no matter who starts, somebody similarly gifted will be waiting on the bench.
However, at this rate, Euro 2016 will be long gone before the England manager is finally able to figure out which system works best for a team that many have high hopes for.