England go into Fridays crucial World Cup qualifier against Montenegro with a surprisingly strong bill of health. Minus the absence of Ashley Cole due to a rib injury he sustained against Norwich on the weekend, Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs has been called up as cover, meaning Leighton Baines is almost certain to start at left-back. This has given Roy Hodgson the rare luxury of picking his favoured starting XI, something he hasn’t truly been able to do in his tenure as England manager.
Despite questionable performances of late Joe Hart looks set to retain his place as England’s first choice goalkeeper, Hodgson electing Hart over the impressive Fraser Forster due to his international experience.
Another typically English furore surrounded Jack Wilshere and allegations of him smoking on a night out. Whilst the media wound themselves silly, Wilshere shrugged it off admirably. First he was confronted by Arsene Wenger, then he rescued a point for Arsenal against West Brom. Then braving the media in the post-match interview and at an England press-conference, knowing fully well what was in store for him, he remained calm and collected, not afraid to put his own views forward on the England credentials of youngster Adnan Januzaj. It is highly likely he will start on Friday.
Just where he starts is less obvious. Hodgson has experimented with several formations across the campaign including 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and 4-5-1, with Wilshere either playing centrally or pushed forward just behind the striker. To everyone’s regret there is a decent chance Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard will be paired together, with Wilshere added to the mix.
Last Saturday Roy Hodgson made a surprise appearance on the beloved Match of the Day, keeping his cards close to his chest, but seeming to infer that Daniel Sturridge, currently enjoying a blistering run of form, would start up-front along with Wayne Rooney. Hodgson was reluctant to accept that Sturridge could play out wide suggesting England may revert to the traditional 4-4-2, or 4-4-1-1 with Rooney playing second striker and dropping to midfield when Montenegro have possession.
If this is case, Wilshere may be put out wide on the left with Baines acting almost as wing-back. Hodgson’s favourite work-horse James Milner could well complete the midfield on the right giving much needed cover for Montenegro’s counter attacking style of play.
Despite stirling performances at Wembley last time out against Moldova, Rickie Lambert and Danny Welbeck look likely to settle for a start on the bench.
England need a minimum of 4 points from the last two homes games, anything less and you have to question whether there is any point boarding the plane to Brazil. However, it is a task that England, despite decent opposition, are more than capable of achieving.
Predicted line up, 4-4-1-1 – Hart; Walker, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines; Milner, Gerrard, Lampard, Wilshere; Rooney, Sturridge.
Predicted score: it won’t be pretty but England to win 2-1
Image courtesy of The Guardian