Injuries and Wayne Rooney’s suspension have sharply reduced Roy Hodgson’s tactical options heading into the tournament, where many feel England’s best hope lies in attempting to stifle technically superior opponents.
Chelsea’s improbable march to the Champions League title has already provided a template of sorts for England, who beat world champions Spain 1-0 in a friendly last November by adopting similar tactics.
England’s final warm-up matches for Euro 2012 were won with goals scored following swift counter-attacks, with Ashley Young scoring in a 1-0 win over Norway before setting up Danny Welbeck’s winner in the 1-0 defeat of Belgium.
England midfielder Stewart Downing, who is expected to start against the French at the Donbass Arena, acknowledged that Hodgson had encouraged his players to look for openings on the counter.
“In the first two games we might have sat back a little bit but we certainly countered on the break,” Downing said. “That’s what we tried to do anyway and that’s what the manager wants us to do in the games coming up.
“Managers have different ways of playing, different styles. Some are gung-ho all the time, some sit back and counter. If he sees the personnel we have suits that system better then that’s the way he wants to go.”
Downing’s former Aston Villa teammate Young has emerged as an increasingly influential piece of England’s attacking threat, displaying a keen eye for goal – six in 21 senior appearances – as well a killer pass.
Liverpool midfielder Downing believes Young has improved since his move to Manchester United last summer.
“You can see with the run of games he’s had and scoring a few goals that his confidence has grown,” Downing said. “He’s a terrific player, a good lad and I personally like playing with him because we seem to be on the same wavelength.
“I think he’s come into his own a bit and has the confidence he can do well in this team. When I first went to Aston Villa he was on the left, I was on the right and you saw his ability to get good crosses into the box and he’s tricky.
“I prefer to play in the hole, if I’m honest, and at Aston Villa when he went into the hole and I went out wide I think we linked up quite well.
“Me, him and Darren Bent. He’s tricky and finds himself in good areas and can nick a goal so I think you can see in the two games he’s played what his attributes are – he can find a pass, score a goal and maybe now we have another player to play in that role as well as Rooney.”
The raw speed of Welbeck and the Manchester United striker’s sublime finish at Wembley last week may well have earned him the nod over the more robust claims of Andy Carroll.
However Downing believes his Liverpool teammate Carroll can still make an important contribution to England’s Euro campaign despite a disappointing season at Anfield.
“There’s been a lot written about Andy throughout the season. I think it’s been a bit harsh on him, to be honest,” Downing said.
“Liverpool paid a lot of money for him but that’s not Andy’s fault. He didn’t play as many games as he would have liked but over the season I think he did quite well, especially towards the end when he really came into form in the last six or seven games.
“So hopefully he can carry on that into the tournament and do well for us.”