It’s now just a few short weeks before England begin qualifying for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil in a little under two years’ time. New(ish) manager Roy Hodgson has barely got his feet under the table, and this qualifying tournament will come to set the tone for his time in the role. On paper England should win their group, but at the moment it’s difficult to be 100% clear about Hodgson’s preferred squad or even the overall approach he will be taking.
The evidence we have to date is Hodgson’s crash course in England management at UEFA Euro 2012 and a 2-1 win over Italy in what was effectively a ‘B’ international. Nevertheless, this month’s look at England’s squad depth has some significant changes from last month’s. Hodgson’s next squad announcement will be a more reliable indicator, but here’s my estimate regardless.
It is based on the following: recent squads, current form, short- and long-term prospects and any relevant media comment from the England manager. Please note that all of those factors are applied through the filter of my opinion; this is not a statistical or necessarily accurate representation, just an idea of where I believe the squad might be. I welcome sensible debate as a result.
Joe Hart, Jack Butland, John Ruddy
Robert Green, David Stockdale
Birmingham City goalkeeper Jack Butland has enjoyed a whirlwind rise to fame over the summer, stepping into the England squad for Euro 2012 after John Ruddy’s late injury and making the Great Britain number one shirt his own at the Olympic Games. After a sturdy if uneventful England debut against Italy, Butland can be considered a definite inclusion for the time being. However, his first two Championship games – for Birmingham against Charlton Athletic and Sheffield Wednesday – have been altogether less impressive.
Ruddy also made his England debut against the Azzurri in the middle of August and stood firm despite having much more to deal with than Butland. Like his younger competitor, 25-year-old Ruddy endured a disappointing start to the 2012/13 season between the posts for Norwich City: the 5-0 reverse against Fulham wasn’t the result of a poor showing from Ruddy, but shipping five goals is a bad day’s work for any goalkeeper in any game.
Ashley Cole, Leighton Baines, John Terry, Gary Cahill, Joleon Lescott, Glen Johnson, Kyle Walker
Michael Dawson, Rio Ferdinand, Kieran Gibbs, Micah Richards
Chris Smalling, Phil Jagielka, Phil Jones, Martin Kelly, Steven Caulker, Ryan Bertrand
Ryan Bertrand and Steven Caulker have soared up the pecking order after establishing themselves in Stuart Pearce’s Olympics side. More importantly, both defenders have improved their standing within their clubs massively since the beginning of last season. Bertrand’s European debut in the UEFA Champions League final did him the world of good at Chelsea, while Caulker’s performances for Swansea City last season should prove to be his last as a loan player, with Tottenham Hotspur boss Andre Villas-Boas moving Michael Dawson on and Caulker ready for the first team.
Everton defender Phil Jagielka is at the very top of the fringe category. I think Hodgson has a great deal of faith in him, and rightly so. But at present it is difficult to predict which defender might be sacrificed to bring him back into the fold. In the middle, Gary Cahill and Joleon Lescott are guaranteed inclusions and John Terry, for some reason, remains entirely bulletproof. Glen Johnson could be the man whose head is on the block – if not, four strikers could be the order of the day.
Tom Cleverley, Michael Carrick, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Scott Parker, Ashley Young
Adam Johnson, Joe Cole, Scott Sinclair, Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere, Jack Rodwell, Stewart Downing, Gareth Barry
Remember Gareth Barry and Stewart Downing? The former Aston Villa duo have had an awful year in England terms. Downing, despite recent inclusions, has been on borrowed time thanks to plummeting club form since he signed for Liverpool on the back of a good season at Villa Park. Barry missed out on the Euros due to injury but in the short period since then he has looked on as Michael Carrick has returned and Tom Cleverley has settled nicely in his early international football experience.
The younger of the Manchester United pair had been groomed for an England debut a year ago but it was prevented by an injury. He’s now very much part of the senior England picture and part of Barry and Downing’s problem. The other is Carrick, for whom the unfortunate “confusion” regarding his Euros non-selection is now firmly in the past. With the likes of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard now needing to pass on the midfield torch, Carrick’s role as a generational bridge could be vital.
Wayne Rooney, Andy Carroll, Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott, Jermain Defoe
Darren Bent, Daniel Sturridge
That England’s strikeforce will remain largely unchanged from the European Championships squad is troublesome. A fit Darren Bent is always likely to be in contention for England, and Andy Carroll was given a further chance to stake his claim against Italy, while Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck remain ahead of Daniel Sturridge largely because of his performances in this calendar year rather than their own.
The main outstanding question up front is the status of Jermain Defoe. Clearly a striker in Hodgson’s good books, Defoe made a scoring start for Tottenham against Newcastle United in the Premier League a few days after his thumping winner against Italy. For that reason, I’d argue that the Spurs man has edged in front of Bent in the current pecking order.
That’s my take as of today. What’s yours?