Roy Hodgson’s men only require two wins from two home qualifiers to qualify for next year’s football festival in Brazil, the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Montenegro, then Poland, stand in their way as they head into these two games a point above the rest, top of Group H.
For the first time in awhile, Hodgson has a good range of striking options to choose from. Of course, gone are the days of which two to pick from Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Teddy Sheringham, or whether Les Ferdinand should get the nod alongside Alan Shearer up front. Nonetheless, the talisman in Wayne Rooney has finally started to show some form and much fitness for club side Manchester United, while Southampton’s Rickie Lambert carried on his goalscoring exploits for England with the Saints. Most important for Hodgson, though, is the form and return to fitness of Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge, who has is the league’s top scorer right now with 6 goals from 7 games.
The emergence of Ross Barkley and Andros Townsend has also been much to be optimistic about. Barkley has sparkled in the free role behind Romelu Lukaku at Everton thus far, while Townsend’s left-footed threat on the right wing for Tottenham Hotspur has given several left-backs sleepless nights.
Worryingly for the England manager, though, is the form of Jack Wilshere, and to a lesser extent, skipper Steven Gerrard. The Arsenal man was caught smoking at a nightclub last week, but somewhat answered his critics with the equalizer against West Brom. Gerrard seems to be coming under criticism for recent performances and at his role in defending corners and set pieces. The Liverpool skipper was arguably at fault for Javier Hernandez and Dwight Gayle goals against his club side, after he twice failed to mark or clear the opponent’s set-piece delivery. Gerrard looks to be tired too, having to push himself for the full 90 minutes since Liverpool almost always seem to stop playing and defend for the second-half.
Worse still is goalkeeper Joe Hart. For long he has been the number 1 and natural heir to the England goalkeeping jersey, but after recent blunders against Bayern Munich – where he was arguably at fault for two of Bayern’s three goals – and confidence-zapping performances against Aston Villa and Cardiff, Hart seems to be ever more prone to mistakes and errors. Fraser Forster’s form for Celtic in the Champions League should get Hodgson’s attention, but as it is Hart seems to remain the manager’s pick.
How Will England Line-Up?
Hodgson will almost certainly go 4-4-2, but he has to fit in as many of his star men and experienced performers as possible. With Hodgson giving Hart the vote of confidence by stating he will start both qualifiers barring injury, the rest of the defence picks itself really. Ashley Cole joins Glen Johnson on the treatment table after the past weekend’s games. Hence, Leighton Baines is a shoe-in to start, his set-piece abilities definitely a bonus for England. Kyle Walker should be the deputy for Johnson, though he defending has really regressed recently. Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill will probably start ahead of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling on the basis of their superior experience.
Gerrard and Michael Carrick should get the two midfield slots, sitting just in front of the defence. The danger here is that due to their lack of mobility, they could be seen as a weak spot for Montenegro and Poland to swamp upon with pace and directness of their younger midfield players, or simply deploying a three-men central midfield. James Milner will be the safe choice on the right, while Jack Wilshere would probably start on the left, drifting in often to form a three-men midfield, as well as allowing Baines to steam up from full-back to support the attack.
That attack picks itself. Rooney and Sturridge. The option of having the height of Lambert or the directness of Jermain Defoe will prove useful, and the hard running of Danny Welbeck will be a good option too, whether out wide or up front.
How FF Thinks England Should Line-Up?
This is my alternative take on how England should deploy themselves, considering their resources at the moment. This line-up is inspired by Liverpool’s current success with the 3-4-1-2 formation, one that could bring England much success as well.
3-5-2: 5-3-2 /5-4-1 when defending, 3-4-1-2 when on the offensive
Hart remains in goal. Walker and Milner can battle for the right wing-back spot, though Walker will take it with his immense pace and the fact he does not have to defend as much. Left wing-back is just as natural for Baines and his attacking instincts. Jagielka and Cahill will continue as centre-backs, with Jones the third, allowed to step up to aid the midfield when possible, but dropping back to form a sturdy three-men defence. Jones’s energy makes him perfect for this “Beckenbauer”/libero type of role.
Gerrard and Carrick take up the two slots, with their lack of mobility made up for by Jones stepping up from defence. Jack Wilshere obviously starts as the number 10, though Barkley might have a decent shout to come on in that spot should Wilshere fail to perform. Rooney and Sturridge pick themselves up front.
Hodgson could not have been presented with a better opportunity to qualify for his first international tournament really. Two games in his own backyard. It could have been more difficult. Granted, Montenegro and Poland will be tricky opponents, but if England are to have any chance of competing, let alone winning, next year’s World Cup, they really have to see this as one they can take down easily. If not, why even try to qualify?