England’s group is the clichéd ‘Group of Death’ in the media, but there’s no reason why Hodgson’s side shouldn’t get the better of either Uruguay or even Italy, who both appear fairly mediocre. Qualification into the knockout rounds could project some of England’s young talent onto the world stage, so just who will shine in Brazil.
It appears that Hodgson favours Henderson and Gerrard in the engine room, with Lallana, Rooney and Sterling playing behind Sturridge.
The omission of Ross Barkley is the most obvious bone of contention. Many armchair pundits would rank his abilities over those of Lallana, but it’d be difficult to make a case for him ahead of Sterling, who is the Premier League’s man of the moment.
Sterling has revolutionised the number 10 position at Liverpool. Instead of sticking a creative ball player in the hole, Sterling gets past the forward and grafts down the channels. In terms of betting value he’s an enticing 33/1 to be England’s top scorer.
This is highlighted when you consider that Rooney’s basically playing the same position or deeper, and he comes in at 7/2. Sturridge is the obvious favourite at around 5/2, but bear in mind, England will play on the break and Sterling will get chances aplenty.
Another man towatch will be Jordan Henderson who has had a hard time convincing a lot of pundits of his abilities; purists can get too ingrained in their desire for complete ‘technical ability’, which I would suggest comes as much through systems as it does through players.
Most teams needs an engine and there are few better than Henderson, who is also a highly underrated footballer.
The Liverpool contingent will be prominent in Hodgson’s side, and if they can combine that understanding with the addition of world class players like Rooney, Cahill and Baines, they start to look a decent prospect for the latter stages.
The big question is whether Hodgson will strap these players into a 4-4-2 formational straight jacket, or let them off the leash and utilise their energy.
Paul Scholes has gone public in saying Hodgson should try to emulate Liverpool’s style, in the manner of, if you score 2 we’ll score 3.
Hodgson does like defending in two banks of four – perfectly reasonable – but he must build angles into the attack; a modern team doesn’t move out with the ball in straight lines. Defensive rigidity and attacking flair aren’t mutually exclusive; just look at Jorge Jesus’s disciplined but ultimately creative Benfica side.
England probably aren’t going to win this World Cup, but players like Sturridge, Sterling, Barkley and Lallana can announce to the world that they’re fit to play on any stage.