Roy Hodgson has surprised some by selecting some young, inexperienced players at the expense of players like as Ashley Cole and Michael Carrick. Hodgson has a reputation as being a cautious manager, anybody who watched England in Euro 2012 will see why this reputation exists. Selecting Forster, Barkley, Shaw, Sterling, Lallana and Lambert – none of whom have more than 5 caps – indicates Hodgson is now bolder than he was back in 2012. The next test is whether his team line-up, shape and tactics game-to-game will reflect this shift in his approach to major tournaments.
One potential issue with the squad is the lack of depth England has in defensive midfield. Captain Steven Gerrard will start in this role. If he was to get injured or suspended however, then Jordan Henderson or Frank Lampard would have to deputise. Neither candidate is a natural holding midfield player, but could be relied upon to perform that role at some stage.
The squad does have a good balance overall. For too long have England carried experienced players to major tournaments who have failed to deliver and show their club form. Many of the culprits have retired or not been selected, which should bring a freshness to the way they play. Some nations appear psychologically troubled by past performances and failings. England are one of those nations. Having these ‘new’ players could help eliminate any mental blocks. There is plenty of pace in the attacking areas and if Adam Lallana can bring his club form to the team, he can unlock defences with accurate through-balls.
Having appeared to get the balance of the squad right, Hodgson needs to find the right blend for his starting XI. Too often have England set up at major tournaments – particularly against some of the better teams – trying not to lose games instead of trying to win them. This usually results in elimination, at the Last 16 or Quarter Final stage. A new attitude to these games are required if England are to achieve better than this in Brazil.
England normally defend relatively well at major tournaments but their backline now looks weaker than it has in recent years. This will increase the pressure on Cahill and Jagielka, who look certain to be the starting pair in the centre of defence. Considering his experience of playing Champions League football for the past 3 seasons, the responsibility will fall to Cahill to lead and organise the defence. This will be a challenge for a man who is used to being lead at Chelsea by John Terry. Will the extra responsibility impact on his game? How well he does in this role will be a big factor on how far England will progress.
Despite not being guaranteed to start under Roy Hodgson – Hodgson may prefer the industry of Milner or Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right of midfield – Raheem Sterling could be an important impact player. Having not played much International football and never appeared in the Champions League, Sterling could prove to be a secret weapon for England from the start or from the bench. His raw pace could help soften the blow of losing Theo Walcott through injury. Sterling has had a phenomenal campaign for Liverpool and if he can reproduce that form he can give the England a dangerous outlet, particularly on the counter.
Incredibly, Wayne Rooney has NEVER scored a goal at the World Cup despite appearing in two previous tournaments. With Rooney in a withdrawn role it looks like Sturridge will lead the line for England upfront and provide the main goal-scoring threat. Sturridge has matured as a footballer since his transfer to Liverpool in January 2013. He found the net 22 times last season and provides England with great movement, good pace and a certain swagger. There are challenges that Sturridge will need to overcome. He has never been able to play as well for England as he has for Liverpool. He could be isolated and will be required to deal with holding the ball up for runners from deep. It remains to be seen if he has the selflessness to play in this way. Like Sterling, if he brings his club form he could be the striker England have been looking for.
Keeping the ball! Time and time again at International level, England surrenders possession easily and allows the other team to control the game and wear England down. This results in the England midfield doing a lot of running chasing the ball. In the heat and humidity of Brazil this could be a big problem. For a while now, England have lacked the calibre of midfielder who can dominate and control the game by keeping the ball. The style of the English Premier League, generally, is to move the ball forward as soon as possible using attacking pace and tempo to create opportunities. This squad looks built to perform in this style. If they cannot execute these counter attacks effectively and games are tight, England will need to try to control matches by retaining possession. Do the likes of Gerrard, Henderson, Barkley, Lampard or Wilshere have the quality to keep possession?
A good barometer for how well England have (or have not) improved in this area will come when they play Italy in their opening match of the tournament. When the two sides faced one another in Euro 2012, Andrea Pirlo ran the show, rarely losing the ball. He highlighted England’s incompetence and dominated the game. England staggered their way through the match drawing 0-0 but eventually succumbed losing the penalty shoot-out.
PREDICTION – Elimination at the Quarter Final Stage (probably by losing on penalties!)
England kick-off their campaign against Italy on June 14th before facing Uruguay and Costa Rica. The opening 2 matches could be tight contests so qualifying for the last 16 looks like it will be 50/50.
Both Uruguay and Italy have some classy players, no doubt. However, Italy and Uruguay share a common weakness: a lack pace in the centre of midfield and defence. If England can move the ball with speed and purpose, they could find some joy ahead of playing Costa Rica, the lowest ranked team in the group. Alternatively, if they let Italy and Uruguay dictate the tempo and set-up in a negative manner, England could be punished.
One of Columbia, Greece, Ivory Coast or Japan will greet England in the Last 16 if they can progress from Group D – which could give them a fair chance of making the Quarter Finals.
Goalkeepers: Fraser Forster (Celtic), Ben Foster (West Bromwich Albion), Joe Hart (Manchester City).
Defenders: Leighton Baines (Everton), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Phil Jagielka (Everton), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Phil Jones (Manchester United), Luke Shaw (Southampton), Chris Smalling (Manchester United).
Midfielders: Ross Barkley (Everton), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Southampton), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), James Milner (Manchester City), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Liverpool), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal).
Attackers: Rickie Lambert (Southampton), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Danny Welbeck (Manchester United).