After his booking against Moldova on Friday night, Danny Welbeck is set to miss out on the away trip to Ukraine and poses another selection issue for Roy Hodgson as he prepares for a crucial qualifying match.
The left hand side of midfield has been a constant problem for England over the last decade with Steven Gerrard, and even more so Paul Scholes, being criminally shafted out of position to occupy the troubled role. The future does look slightly more promising with the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wilfred Zaha who are comfortable on either foot, but who will on the left tomorrow night in Ukraine is slightly more troubling.
Danny Welbeck has been the holder of the position for Hodgson in recent months, whether it is his best position is another discussion, but has been one of England’s most in-form players in the last 12 months and only Wayne Rooney has scored more than Welbeck in the time period who has 6 goals.
James Milner is the most likely choice to start and would offer an added protection against a Ukraine side with the impressive wingers Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka, who scored against England at Wembley when the sides last met. The inclusion of Milner in the starting XI has been seen as setting up with a negative approach by fans who do not rate the midfielder and wrongly so in my opinion.
The Manchester City player prefers to play in central midfield, a position that earned him a move to City in the first place after an impressive spell at Aston Villa, but his versatility has seen him played out wide at both club and international level. Roy Hodgson has himself that Milner isn’t a traditional winger, but the England manager knows the work rate and desire that is accustomed in Milner’s style of play makes him a reliable choice for big matches. It will also allow Ashley Cole to venture further forward as well as Gerrard and Lampard from centre midfield to areas where they can threaten the Ukrainian goal – something that will be essential as Milner doesn’t offer the same threat that Welbeck has recently for England.
Milner doesn’t have that burst of pace that Welbeck utilised to get on the end of a Rickie Lambert ball on Friday night and score, but he does offer a better end-product – a crossing accuracy of 22% in the Premier League last season that rivalled new Real Madrid star Gareth Bale’s 23%. With Lambert up front that will be an important part of England’s attacks, and Milner’s preference of crossing the ball low across the 6-yard box can utilise Walcott’s pace to run across his marker when coming in from the right wing.
Ashley Young is the next choice that Hodgson has to choose from, and would offer a more attacking role on the left, but after a period of time out injured and Young’s form being inconsistent since a poor Euro 2012, a tournament where he was built up to be one of England’s key men. The Manchester United winger’s annoyance performance against Liverpool last weekend will stick in Hodgson’s mind as he looks for full commitment against a difficult trip to an in-form Ukraine, and doesn’t suggest Young is the best option to turn to in such a crucial game.
Other attacking options include Andros Townsend and Raheem Sterling but the inexperience of the pair, Townsend is uncapped and Sterling only has a solitary cap, means that Hodgson is unlikely to risk going for an ‘unknown prospect’ in a game that has big implications on both the England’s qualifying hopes and Hodgson himself. Risks have worked before at international level, Michael Owen’s inclusion in the 1998 World Cup squad is an example of this, but this is slightly different. Sterling hasn’t started many games this calendar year for Liverpool and Townsend, while he impressed in a poor QPR side last season and put in stellar performances against Crystal Palace, Swansea and Dinamo Tblisi for Tottenham this season, could face a similar moment to Scott Carson’s competitive debut when he was dropped in at the deep end against Croatia and his career suffered due to it.
The appointment of Greg Dyke as FA Chairman has resurfaced the ‘How to solve English Football?’ debate again and will cause more criticism if England fail to pick up at least a point. This is why Hodgson will have the preference of substance over style in tonight’s game and will most probably pick James Milner to fill the left wing problem.