After two defeats in the last week, England fans are again at their most pessimistic heading into a World Cup year. Being beaten by Germany is always tough for England fans, but a somewhat second string Germany side makes the defeat all the worst. Friday night’s loss against Chile was also a bad result, albeit with an experimental English side. What the two games showed is that England do not possess much depth. Injuries aside, the team against Germany was almost the strongest England have to offer, but could not unlock a German team lacking Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Manuel Neuer. By next summer, England will need to have their established best XI. The most important role for Hodgson to fill is the player who will play alongside Captain Steven Gerrard. Barring bad form, England’s best team may look like this.
Joe Hart has firmly established himself as Roy Hodgson’s number one. After a shaky 2013, many feel that Fraser Forster or a returning Ben Foster should be given the chance to usurp the Manchester City stopper. However, Hart is England’s only keeper with real tournament experience. This is important factor in choosing a number one goalkeeper and is the main reason why Hodgson is likely to stick with Hart.
Glen Johnson has had a start to the season marred by injury which has prevented him in playing in key qualifiers for England. During this time, Kyle Walker has capitalised on his opportunity and secured his place as Hodgson’s number one right back. Johnson has been in this position before and has spent time in the international wilderness. Good performances for Liverpool should see him claim back his place.
Phil Jagielka has been the rock in Everton’s defence this season. His partnership with Distin has been the basis of the strong start the Toffees have made this season. For England he has built a partnership with Gary Cahill, which only conceded four goals during qualifying. His experience is likely to keep him in the team ahead of Jones or Smalling.
Gary Cahill has had a mixed start to the season due to the rotation policy that Jose Mourinho has employed. When he has played, he has given a good account of himself with all three of Chelsea’s clean sheets coming in games he’s started. His partnership with Jagielka should be enough to see him in the starting line-up.
Ashley Cole is seen by many as England’s best player in the last ten years. The emergence of Leighton Baines and Cole’s omission by Mourinho in recent games has raised doubt over whether he should be England’s first choice left back. Despite this, Cole continues to play well in all of his appearances for England and while he continues to do so, it will be hard for Baines to move in front of him.
Steven Gerrard merits his place in the side due to the leadership he brings to the side. Gerrard will be 34 by the time England line-up for their first game in Brazil and his experience will bring a calming effect to the rest of the side. Hodgson will hope that he has one last tournament left in him.
Jack Wilshere has not played as regularly for England as many would have hoped. He has had an indifferent start to this campaign, and has found himself on the wing for Arsenal and not in his preferred central role. His fitness issues have also been a problem, but when fit he is the best option to partner Gerrard. Wenger has stated that Wilshere’s best position is from deep driving forward with the ball. He is the only England midfielder who is able to do so.
Attacking Midfield Right
The right midfield position is the one place where it is still undecided. Andros Townsend has put in some fearless displays in his games for England, but Theo Walcott has the experience. Townsend has frustrated Spurs fans this season, but been a revelation in an England shirt. In the end it should be decided on a game by game basis. Walcott should play when England need to get in behind and Townsend should play when they need someone who can relieve pressure by moving forward with the ball.
Attacking Midfield Left
Danny Welbeck is another player who seems to turn it on in an England shirt. He has been deployed on the left of the three behind the main striker lately, and has performed this role excellently. Welbeck’s problem is his lack of goals, but his link up play with Rooney, Sturridge and Townsend was very promising in England’s final two qualifiers. He will need to get fit and play for Manchester United to ensure his place.
Attacking Midfield Centre
Wayne Rooney finds himself in the same position as Steven Gerrard. The Manchester United forward is a guaranteed starter for his country, and brings an impressive scoring record. He is most likely to be deployed behind Sturridge so that he can help Wilshere and Gerrard in the midfield. This does not stop him from getting forward and popping up with important goals. Yet to perform on the big stage, he must do something in his third World Cup.
Daniel Sturridge has started the season in blistering form. He is the joint top scorer in the Premier League this season with 8 goals, and has been prolific ever since his move to Liverpool. For England he has not yet shown what he is capable of, but Hodgson should keep faith in him and give him the time he needs to adjust to international football.
Notable omissions from this XI who may be able to force their way into the side include Manchester United’s Michael Carrick who is currently out injured. The midfielder played in England’s final qualifier against Poland, and could force his way into this team. As mentioned earlier, Glen Johnson and Leighton Baines are the other two players who will put the most pressure on the players in the respective position.