On Tuesday past England had the chance to put some conviction behind their World Cup challenge with a friendly against Germany but the team failed to deliver. The side were beaten by a thirty ninth minute header from Per Mertesacker after some terrible defending from two corners. 2014 is fast approaching and it doesn’t look like Hodgson knows his strongest side. Each campaign it is relatively clear which eleven players will feature throughout the tournament but at the moment it is far from it. Hodgson took charge of the national side in May 2012 and the team put up a brave display at the European Championships; making it to the quarter finals before losing on penalties to Italy. The World Cup qualifiers have been… satisfactory. Yes the record shows that the team went unbeaten in the group but were they really up against any tough opponents? Considering England scored thirteen past San Marino yet Ukraine scored nineteen and didn’t make the World Cup says something about the team’s conviction. These past two friendlies which England have lost have proven to be wake up calls for Roy and the squad.
The problems start from the back. In goal England have a keeper who looks defeated in confidence. He hasn’t played for his club for three weeks and despite making a quality save in the first half, he had little to do in the second and so this proved nothing. He may have conceded the least amount of goals last season but Hart doesn’t have a secure place in this starting eleven. Joe is the best man for the role but if Hodgson still feels unsure about his ego then the experiments will continue into spring which will not fill anyone with much confidence. At left back England have talent in abundance and the right back position has some fulfilling candidates also but is Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill the strongest central pairing? Many pundits have commented on the potential of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling as a duo but if this is the case why isn’t Moyes or Hodgson testing this? Smalling looked weak compared to Mertesacker and Jones doesn’t seem to have a set position at the minute, being constantly moved around. Hodgson commented that he couldn’t fault the effort, the work rate and desire but is that really enough?
The only two midfielders who showed this was Andros Townsend and Steven Gerrard. Townsend was the single player who took on the Germans with no fear as he ran through them creating opportunities and having the best chance; hitting the post just after the hour mark. Gerrard swept the ball around the midfield well but wasn’t helped by a lack of movement by the two strikers in the first half. Although Tom Cleverly made some good passes in the opening forty five, he failed to keep tight to Reus and there was little ‘desire’ in his tackling. Jack Wilshire is likely to be the starter for next year’s World Cup but the team may have trouble on the left. Adam Lallana did little wrong but failed to penetrate the defence as well as his fellow winger did. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had a great Euro 2012 campaign but his lack of game time could affect his chances whilst Adam Johnson’s performances for Sunderland have been mixed. Hodgson could possibly test out Leighton Baines on that flank after his strong showing against Poland and Montenegro. He provided a beautiful cross for Rooney’s goal against Poland and that is something England need on one of the wings.
Wayne Rooney is a certainty upfront but it’s unclear whether Daniel Sturridge is his perfect partner. He has a brilliant relationship with Luis Suarez at Liverpool and during the qualifiers the pair did their jobs but Sturridge looked far from clinical in front of Germany’s debutant goalkeeper, Roman Weidenfeller. Andy Carroll also had a good European Championships and offers something that Sturridge doesn’t as he is a real threat in the air but his ongoing injuries make him a concerning choice. Of course he is lacking the game time at West Ham but at least we’ve seen more of him that Jermaine Defoe who has insisted he wants to stay at Spurs through January despite lack of playing time himself. Danny Welbeck is likely to make the squad but will he be a starter is a question no-one but Hodgson can answer. Other contenders like Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez haven’t fully been tested so unless there are any standout performances in the next six months then Hodgson might settle on the current pairing. It’s not an awful team by any means. However, with the draw for the World Cup groups getting announced two weeks on Friday and with England in Pot D, it is unlikely England will be strong favourites for their group let alone the competition. Hodgson has to have an eleven sorted before the game against Denmark in March otherwise the England fans can’t be hopeful for any resurgent performance from the three lions in Brazil next summer.
Post by Richard Waterhouse