Thursday’s dramatic victory over Wales will have the England defence patting each other on the back- Gareth Bale was just about stifled enough to send England top of Group B. Job done? Well actually, perhaps not. Marek Hamsik’s performance against Russia suggests the England back line are still yet to face their toughest test in Group B.
Slovakia’s main man has been playing at the top of european football for the best part of a decade. Moving to newly promoted Napoli from Brescia in 2007, Hamsik has been at the centre of the club’s revival at the Stadio San Paolo. By far the greatest player in Slovakia’s history as an independent nation, the 28 year old has represented his country on 89 occasions scoring 19 goals. Born in 1987, in the former Czechoslovakia, Pavel Neved was Marek’s idol growing up. The former Juventus star sharing a similar career path and style of play with the Napoli man- appropriately, Neved has stated that he views Hamsik is his natural heir.
As has been evident against both Wales and Russia, Hamsik is very much the whole package. Playing in the middle of the three in coach Jan Kozak’s 4-2-3-1 formation, Hamsik is the central cog in Slovakia’s attack. Undoubtedly a class above his Slovak compatriots, England’s primary focus will be to suffocate the Mo-hawked play-maker however, defending against Hamsik is a very different prospect to defending against other individual stars such as Bale, Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic. Dropping deep to receive the ball, Hamsik is capable of defence splitting dribbles as seen against Wales, as well as devastating cross field passing illustrated in the game with Russia when Hamsik took out half the Russian team with his assist for winger Vladamir Weiss.
Deploying Eric Dier to hinder Hamsik’s influence may be Roy Hodgson’s only option. Although, Slovakia’s number 17 is too functional within Slovakia’s overall team game to label him a ‘one man team’ and deal with him accordingly. Wingers Robert Mak and Vladimir Weiss along with AC Milan midfielder Juraj Kucka have too much quality to ignore. And Hamsik’s tendency to play behind the ball only enhances his threat- remembering the woeful attempts to halt Pirlo in 2012 and 2014 is enough to concern any England fan ahead of Monday night’s clash.
That goal he scored against Russia demonstrated his unrestrainable nature, leaving his minder for dead and finding the top corner from an unfavourable angle. Stopping Hamsik will quite rightly be top of England’s agenda but just how they’ll do it is possibly the greatest test Roy and his defence have faced so far at this European Championship.