Three tactical choices key to England’s World Cup hopes
England prepare to take on Montenegro knowing they have never beaten the former Yugoslav nation in its short history since independence.
For all the criticism of keeper Joe Hart’s club form, according to Sky Bet he’s still the best goalkeeper England have and should start for them. In any case, Hodgson has stuck by Hart and introducing a new keeper in a key qualifier is a mistake England do not want to make again.
Instead, we’ve identified three other areas which may hold the fate of Roy Hodgson and the Three Lions – further up the pitch.
Any England victory will be based on solidity at the back. The microscope will be on Hart, but centre backs Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill are preparing to start their sixth successive international match together.
Hodgson seems to have settled on this pairing now that old guard Rio Ferdinand and John Terry have retired from this stage. Cahill and Jagielka kept two clean sheets in last month’s qualifiers and now prepare for their sternest test so far.
Montenegro have plenty of forward options to choose from, but Stevan Jovetic may be the devil England comes to know. He carved out a reputation in Italy’s Serie A. Manchester City then splashed out over £20 million on Jovetic’s signature this summer.
Other attackers Andrija Delibasic and Dejan Damjanovic already have goals against England to their credit from previous meetings. Whoever they have to shackle, Jageilka and Cahill must simply do just that. Mark their men tightly.
The Lions are also missing first-choice full backs Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole. Leighton Baines is more than capable of deputizing on the left, but experience on the other flank is somewhat lacking.
A major criticism from supporters in the wake of England’s drab draw in Ukraine last month was the absence of midfield composure. Predictably Hodgson picked experienced heads Frank Lampard and skipper Steven Gerrard with Jack Wilshere.
Was the balance right? That result, and nature of it, may belie arguments that it was. Michael Carrick was touted as an underrated commodity again. His fans said he would have got his foot on the ball.
The return of Wilshere to the international scene has marginalized Tom Cleverley’s minutes on the pitch. Is there even a chance young Ross Barkley will get a look in? Hodgson plays safe, so probably not. Barkley’s blistering form in Everton colours counts for nothing.
Selecting faithful servants is fine, but they are ageing legs now. Trademark midfield surges from centurions Lampard and Gerrard are a thing of the past.
Perhaps the media storm surrounding Wilshere’s comments on who should play for England might give Hodgson an excuse to take him out of the XI. The Lions boss must decide whether he wants steel, composure or both in the middle of the park.
Gerrard has backed England talisman Wayne Rooney to form a potent partnership with in-form Daniel Sturridge. Just because the potential is there does not mean they will work in attack.
It is up front that Hodgson arguably has his toughest selection choice. Each striker brings something different with them. If he goes on form Sturridge should get a spot. Jermain Defoe is the man to call on if Hodgson wants a threat in behind Montenegro.
Rickie Lambert offers that battering ram option. Dangerous at set pieces, he would upset the visiting defence with his physical presence, but also a sureness of touch.
Defoe’s Tottenham teammate Andros Townsend would add genuine wingplay to the frontline. James Milner meanwhile, whether deployed in midfield or on the flank, gives the England XI a grafter.
Last, and by no means least, Danny Welbeck caught the eye with his display in the 4-0 win over Moldova. His movement, willingness to run the channels and come from wide may scare the Brave Falcons.
We shall have to wait until Friday to know who Hodgson unleashes in attack and those lining up in midfield behind them.