In the parallel universe where nothing is no longer certain and teams in crisis turn into challengers – and vice versa – that the Premier League has been for the first four months of the season, it’s impossible to look past Southampton as the feel good story of the year so far.
The Saints are just three points away from league leaders Arsenal, they boast the meanest defence in the Premier League and, perhaps more importantly, field three academy players in their starting XI and a total of six Englishmen in their starting line-up.
It’s hard to fathom that a side that was playing League One football three seasons ago could achieve so much in such a short amount of time, and yet the Saints have produced some fantastic performances this season, winning at Anfield and drawing away against Manchester United.
Southampton’s success, however, isn’t just a source of joy and enthusiasm for their fans, for Roy Hodgson must have been incredibly pleased to see Mauricio Pochettino’s men doing so well.
If Rickie Lambert’s call-up for the friendly against Scotland in August was borne out of necessity and was seen by many as the fairytale moment for a man who took the long route from non-league football to the Premier League, Jay Rodriguez and Adam Lallana’s selections are more than justified.
With a ticket for Brazil firmly in his back pocket, Roy Hodgson must make the most of the friendlies England will play between now and June, starting when Chile and Germany visit Wembley over the next seven days.
On form alone, Lallana in particular should be given his first England start, for he has been instrumental in Southampton’s surprise start to the season, scoring three goals and assisting two in 11 games, his last goal, a spectacular solo effort, coming against Hull on Saturday.
With Michael Carrick and Steven Gerrard set to miss out the clash against the South Americans, Hodgson could do worse things than handing Lallana his first international cap.
One of the criticism aimed at England is that they lack the creativity required to open teams up and while Andros Townsend’s emergence has provided Hodgson with a welcome option out wide, at times England remain bereft of ideas through the middle.
Michael Carrick excels in passing the ball and intercepting it, but the United midfielder isn’t the sort of player capable to split defences wide open with a pass, while Gerrard and Frank Lampard, though they remain capable of providing a moment of brilliance, have moved further away from the final third of the pitch.
Jack Wilshere’s future remains clouded by his fitness issues, while Tom Cleverley is yet to demonstrate that he’s capable to grab the game by the scruff of its neck, which means Lallana should be given his chance on Friday.
The Southampton midfielder can operate behind the main striker, on both flanks as well as through the middle, and can also be deployed deeper on the pitch if needs be, providing Hodgson with the flexibility so dear to the England manager.
A quick glance at Lallana’s statistics this season, highlights his offensive contribution, with the Southampton midfielder completing 81.4% of the 37.6 passes he averages during a game and completing 1.8 key passes every 90 minutes.
Of the England midfielders, only Steven Gerrard completes more crucial passes – 2 – during a game, while the Liverpool captain, Lampard, Cleverley and Carrick all average better pass completion rates than the Saints man.
Numbers, however, should not detract from Lallana’s impact, for attacking midfielders generally find themselves with much less space and time on the ball than their colleagues deployed in deeper positions.
Lallana has done enough to earn the right of playing for England and, as Roy Hodgson discovered a month ago when he gave Andros Townsend his debut, the buzz generated by a novelty factor can never be underestimated.