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With under 48 hours until England open their World Cup campaign against Italy in the heat of Manaus, Roy Hodgson has received so many suggestions for his starting XI than he’d take him another four years to get his head around reading all of them.
Should England’s game focus on stifling the threat posed by Andrea Pirlo? Or should Hodgson’s men adopt the same cavalier approach that characterised Liverpool’s title charge last season?
The conundrum over the line-up is almost inevitable and while Hodgson has probably already made his mind up, choosing the starting XI remains one of the favourite exercises of fans and pundits across the country.
No surprises here, as Joe Hart is Hodgson’s number one and, unless he suffers a stomach bug five minutes kick-off, the City stopper will be in goal. Hart remained England’s first choice even after he was dropped for his club and his arguably one of the first names on Hodgson’s teamsheet.
Defenders: Baines Cahill Jagielka Johnson
Those looking for signs that England have moved onto a new generation of players should look no further than the back four. Gone are the political spat involving Rio Ferdinand and John Terry, gone is Ashley Cole too and while the current England’s rearguard might lack the household names it featured in the past, it’s been impressively solid so far.
Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill have developed into an excellent partnership – only Spain conceded less than England during the qualifying campaign – while Glen Johnson and Leighton Baines should offer enough guarantees at both ends of the pitch.
Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Luke Shaw offer valid alternatives but of them only the Southampton can seriously be considered in contention for a starting spot.
Midfielders: Sterling Gerrard Rooney Henderson Lallana
For the first time in almost two decades the England manager is blessed with a variety of choices in the engine room but, ironically, the emergence of Adan Lallana, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling could give Hodgson a headache.
With Steven Gerrard an obvious starter, Jordan Henderson’s excellent performances last season in the heart of midfield with Gerrard could be rewarded with a start against Italy, while Raheem Sterling has emerged as favourite for the number 10 position for England’s opener.
The Liverpool attacker is one of the most exciting talents England has produced, but were he to play behind the main striker, Hodgson would have to find room for Wayne Rooney. Quite the headache, but Rooney could be shifted out on the left, while James Milner could be brought in if England decide to adopt a more cautious approach.
Hodgson is a know admirer of Milner’s tactical diligence and reliability but including the Manchester City midfielder doesn’t offer the same creativity and sharpness that some of his teammates bring to the table.
Likewise, Frank Lampard or Jack Wilshere would both be surprise inclusion on Saturday, with the former never at his best alongside Steven Gerrard, while the latter hasn’t yet dispelled the doubts over his fitness.
Lallana and Ross Barkley have also received strong support to be included in the starting XI against Italy and, on form alone, both should start ahead of the United striker, particularly as they’re largely unknown entities as far as Italy are concerned.
Danny Welbeck looks set to be on the bench after suffering a minor injury scare in training, while Daniel Sturridge is almost guaranteed a starting spot, despite netting only twice in the qualifying campaign, compared to Rooney’s seven goals.
Sturridge’s pace and movement could be pivotal against the Italian’s back three, while it’d be interesting to see whether Rooney will occupy his usual position behind the main striker or whether Hodgson will opt to deploy him wide, hoping Sterling’s pace will be too much to handle for the Italians.
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