So, it’s World Cup year. The Premier League is filled with the extra inspiration for players that they have to catch the eye of their national team managers.
For England, there have been quite a few names that have come out of the woodwork, and so Roy Hodgson has been given the cliched ‘selection headache’ that graces every England manager before a big competition.
The main area where some of the most expected big names are in danger of facing the cut is in midfield. Of course, Captain Steven Gerrard is near enough a dead cert, but who are the others in contention to getting on that flight to Brazil?
Gerrard’s Liverpool teammate Jordan Henderson has grown into one of the key players for Brendan Rodgers’ side in the past year. From when he started as a youngster in the Liverpool side, it’s taken time for him to find his feet, but he’s definitely shone this year, contributing to Liverpool’s dominance recently. In the last few games, especially the demolitions of Arsenal and Everton, Henderson has been a contender for the MOTM, and this was no different in the Liverpool side that sealed a scrappy win against Swansea last weekend. Statistically in this game, Henderson had a total of 4 shots, all of which were on target, and just shows the confidence he now has to get forward. He also had a 88% pass accuracy, controlling the midfield in a game where the battle in the middle of the park was fierce. The only criticism in the past was that he wasn’t getting enough goals, but now coming up with the goods, he’s definitely made his mark, forcing Hodgson to consider him.
Frank Lampard may not have featured in the Chelsea side as much as he would have wanted in the past couple of years, but with all these new and young names coming up through the ranks, is it necessary to have the experience that players like Lampard have? Although through all these years the partnership with Steven Gerrard never materialised, the Chelsea midfielder has been ever present, and can still come up with the goals when needed. He has a total of 82% passing accuracy for this season so far, but has only managed 4 goals in the league this season. Is he too big a name to drop?
Although Manchester United have visibly struggled this season, Michael Carrick has still been a prominent name in the starting line-up. Starting 18 of United’s games, Carrick has notched up only one goal in the Premier League campaign, and so is behind veteran Lampard in terms of striking. However, Carrick can play more of a defensive role, and could be vital in terms of winning those battles in midfield. His own half passing accuracy stands at 94% in this season alone, and so demonstrates how much he can settle and be in control in front of that defence. And although his goal scoring statistics may not be up to scratch, he has created a total of 17 chances this season for the forwards.
Although he’s had injury woes in the past, Jack Wilshere has helped Arsenal to stay at the top end of the table this season, and has been tipped as a young star to make a name for himself in the national side. He’s started 18 of the Gunners’ Premier League games in 2013/14, grabbing himself 3 goals, and 4 assists. His natural determination is exactly what is needed when fighting for scrappy results in a knock-out tournament, but is the Arsenal star too big of a gamble with his previous injury experiences?
Nineteen year old Raheem Sterling still seems young although he has now been around for a number of years. He is one of the main selection headaches that Roy Hodgson has to face, but now that Theo Walcott is out of the World Cup with injury, does this free up space for both of himself and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain? The two have turned heads recently with their performances, although Sterling is ahead in terms of getting on the scoresheet, as well as creation for others. He’s scored 5 goals with 3 assists compared to Chamberlain’s 2 and 1, and has been impressing pundits and fans alike with his speed and new-found strength. However, Sterling has started 16 games for Liverpool this season, compared to Chamberlain’s 3. Is 3 starting appearances so far enough to cement his place in the England squad? He has from now until the end of the season to prove he has what it takes.
Young Everton star Ross Barkley has been a new face on the scene in the last couple of years, but has no doubt made an impression. This season so far, his playing style has been dubbed as being the “new Steven Gerrard”, and has scored 3 goals this campaign for the Blues. However, he’s only made 3 appearances for the England first-team – would he be more of a back-up rather than a first-team choice?
James Milner‘s appearances for Manchester City this season have been mostly from the subs bench – and he’s only notched up 1 goal and 1 assist from his time on the pitch. He has also been dispossesed 4 times in 90 minutes on 2 occassions, although his national experience previously does put him in a good light. Roy Hodgson may take the safer option of someone who has more starts under their belt, especially with the calibre of the competition for places this World Cup year.
Spurs’ Andros Townsend has been spoken about a lot since he has grabbed the attention this season. He made 4 appearances for England last year, getting a goal to his name. At the age of 22, to be in the mix to be taken to the World Cup is an achievement in itself, but is it the experience that’s needed for England, or unleashing the up and coming talents? He’s made 10 starts for Tottenham this season, but again follows the disappointing trend with the lack of goals coming from England midfielders – he’s only scored one Premier League goal for the London side in 2013/14.
His Spurs’ teammate Aaron Lennon has always been a name floating around the speculation for national team places, and has started 17 games in the league this season. He’s created 26 chances in total, with 25 coming from open play, and could be the key for generating those openings for the three strikers of Welbeck, Rooney and Sturridge.
Southampton attacking midfielder Adam Lallana threw the cat amongst the pigeons earlier this year when he’d earned himself his first England cap. Subsequently putting himself in the mix for World Cup places, he’s started the most league games for the Saints this season, with 26. And in terms of coming up with the goals, he’s netted 7 times along with 5 assists. With similar stats, Adam Johnson for Sunderland has also made himself an outsider for a place to Brazil. He has scored 7 goals, with 3 assists, but in only 18 starts. It’s a battle between the creative midfielders and adds yet another welcome problem for the England manager.
With the more mature midfielders up against the rising stars, is Roy Hodgson going to go for experience rather than the form book? He’s certainly got a job on his hands in deciding.