With England preparing for away trips to San Marino and Montenegro in their World Cup Qualifying Group H fixtures, it is worth exploring their striking options.
Whether Roy Hodgson opts to play a 4-4-2, 4-4-3 or a variation of either formation, it is likely that Jermain Defoe, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck will feature at some point in the two games (along-side Wayne Rooney).
Each player offers England something different and a look at their Premier League statistics reinforces this.
Defoe, Sturridge and Welbeck Goal Statistics 2012/13
What is clear from these goal scoring statistics is that Welbeck is nowhere near as clinical as Defoe or Sturridge.
With a goal every 1,102 minutes Welbeck is way behind Defoe (215 mins) and even further behind Sturridge (134 mins) in the goal scoring stakes.
Sturridge’s rich vein of form is seeing him manage a shot every 21 mins. Against defensively minded opposition a willingness to shoot is a must.
In only seven appearances for Liverpool since joining from Chelsea in January, Sturridge has managed four more shots in total and seven more shots on target than Welbeck has mustered in 22 appearances.
The United man is not likely to lead the line however; as he has been deployed out wide by Sir Alex Ferguson and Roy Hodgson in recent months.
If anyone is set to play along-side Rooney in a more classic 4-4-2, it will probably be Defoe.
The Tottenham striker has a clear-cut chance conversion rate of 38%, slightly out doing Sturridge on 33%. It is Defoe’s poaching instinct which might serve England well, particularly against San Marino who aren’t likely to pose an attacking threat.
The Spurs striker is best suited to the classic ‘number 9’ role out of the three players, though Sturridge’s form since arriving at Liverpool may persuade Hodgson to experiment with a new attacking line-up.
Defoe, Sturridge and Welbeck Creativity Statistics 2012/13
This is where Welbeck arguably has the most to offer England. Welbeck’s pace and ability to make marauding runs is difficult to defend against and more than that, he simultaneously alleviates some of the pressure on his own defence.
Welbeck is also more creative with the ball at his feet. He is creating a clear-cut chance for his teammates every 276 mins this season which is far superior to both Defoe (1076 mins) and Sturridge (537 mins).
It’s perhaps Defoe’s main weakness that he isn’t as versatile as Sturridge or Welbeck. It seems a contradiction to say “he only scores goals,” but despite the fact he has three assists to his name this season, he doesn’t provide much in the way of creativity. He creates a chance every 77 mins, not quite at the same level as Sturridge (45 mins) or Welbeck (55 mins).
Defoe’s one-dimensional game could be what makes Hodgson opt for a more all-round player, such as Welbeck.
It is a sign of Welbeck’s growing maturity that he is happy to perform a role out wide and it is a role that he is quickly making his own.
It was perhaps surprising to see Welbeck start for Manchester United away to Real Madrid in the last-16 Champions League tie, but with a goal to his name and an excellent performance to boot, he demonstrated that he will be an important player for both United and England in the future.
It is in that type of game, against world-class opposition at the highest level, that Welbeck will continue to develop as a player.
Defoe, Sturridge and Welbeck Defensive Statistics 2012/13
On the face of it to compare Defoe, Sturridge and Welbeck defensively might seem futile as they are strikers.
However, when you consider that Danny Welbeck makes a tackle every 39 mins compared to Defoe (154 mins) and Sturridge (537 mins), it becomes a little clearer why he might be favoured. Given England’s conservative style of play, they need a player who is effective in every department. This is especially true in the bigger games, which is why Welbeck could start against Montenegro who are currently top of Group H.
Welbeck’s energy means he is winning the ball back from the opposition every 23 mins, more than twice as often as Defoe and Sturridge (both 54 mins).
Ultimately, his versatility could be what puts him ahead of Defoe and Sturridge.
Michael Owen’s announcement this week that he is set to retire from football at the end of the season serves as a damning reminder that England have failed to produce a freely scoring striker of his ilk in the last number of years. Wayne Rooney will continue to be England’s focal point of attack and in the absence of a world class, natural goalscorer; it is possible to make a case for Defoe, Sturridge or Welbeck to play alongside him up front for England.
Choosing between the three is a matter of subjectivity, but Welbeck’s growing importance for Manchester United in big games could be what sways Hodgson to use him with Theo Walcott either side of Rooney.
Welbeck and Walcott would utilise the flanks, thus creating space more centrally for the likes of Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard to thrive in the middle of the pitch.
It seems counter-intuitive to pick Welbeck over Defoe or Sturridge given that he doesn’t score many goals as a striker, but his versatility and energy could prove to be more effective on the international stage.
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