With two weeks to go until the biggest tournament in world football gets under way, Roy Hodgson is preparing his England squad for three games in which he can try new combinations, check fitness levels, and ultimately get it right.
England will play Peru tomorrow night (May 30), before flying to the United States to take on Ecuador and Honduras in the Miami heat next week. The Three Lions then move on to Brazil, ready to face Italy in Manaus on June 14.
If England don’t beat Peru tomorrow night then the alarm bells should be ringing. Peru haven’t made it to this summer’s World Cup and have picked a squad lacking Schalke’s pacey winger Jefferson Farfan and Bayern Munich’s experienced striker Claudio Pizarro. Add to that the home advantage that Wembley brings and you get a game that England simply must win, regardless of the team Hodgson picks.
Pundits have spent the past week debating the approach that the England manager should take in these friendlies; whether to work out his starting line up or try new things. In the home match against a weakened Peru team, he should probably do the latter.
There is no need to play Joe Hart in Friday’s game. He is the first name on the teamsheet, head and shoulders (jokes aside) above England’s other goalkeepers. Hodgson would be better off checking if Ben Foster and Fraser Forster are up to scratch. The former endured a difficult season in the Premier League with West Brom, whilst the latter had barely anything to do as Celtic stormed to another Scottish Premiership title.
Again in defence, there is a great opportunity to see what teenage left back Luke Shaw can do in an England shirt, with Leighton Baines being another sure fire starter in Brazil. Hodgson may wish to maintain the Cahill-Jagielka partnership at the back, or see if Jones and Smalling are up to scratch after their torrid season at Old Trafford.
It’s in England’s front six where fans can begin to get truly excited about the options – new and old – available to Hodgson. Captain Steven Gerrard has been given a new Pirlo-esque lease of life by Brendan Rodgers, whilst forming an outstanding partnership with Jordan Henderson as Liverpool pushed for the title this season. There’s a fully fit Jack Wilshere in the squad too, and Frank Lampard is an experienced understudy to Gerrard.
Further forward the effervescent Ross Barkley, Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling all enjoyed superb seasons for their clubs this season and add a touch of dynamism to England. James Milner and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain also showed their class in limited opportunities over the year, with Leeds-born Milner proving to be a favourite of Hodgson over the last two years for his work rate and reliability.
Finally, England’s striking options are greater than they have been in recent years. All eyes are on Wayne Rooney this summer as the nation expects him to finally step up to the plate on the international stage. If he doesn’t, then Daniel Sturridge is a superb replacement, having scored 27 goals for Liverpool this season. Hodgson could choose to play these two together, or as part of a front three, depending on his gameplan. Rickie Lambert is more than just a ‘big man up front’ too, whilst Danny Welbeck regularly proves his doubters wrong when he pulls on an England shirt.
Next week’s fixtures against Ecuador and Honduras will be tougher affairs. Both sides have qualified for the World Cup, and the American weather will test England more than their opposition. In these fixtures we might get a clearer idea of how the team will line up and perform in Brazil.
Image courtesy of Battenhall