In the past few days we have witnessed England play two World Cup warm up matches, firstly at Wembley against Peru and then on Wednesday against Ecuador in Miami. But what have we actually learnt from these matches if anything at all?
Against Peru the team was: Hart/Johnson-Cahill-Jagielka-Baines/Gerrard-Henderson Lallana-Rooney-Welbeck/ Sturridge. This to me looks like Roy putting out what, in his eyes, might be his starting XI vs Italy. In terms of performances of players, Sturridge scored a world-class goal but it should be noted that his partnership with Wayne Rooney didn’t click as hoped, with Rooney often dropping too deep in search of the ball. Other commendable performances include Danny Welbeck and Leighton Baines. For me there were some large question marks brought up as a result of this game, Glen Johnson (not for the first time in recent months) looked very poor and defensively at times was caught completely out of position. Wayne Rooney, as perhaps expected, having been injured for the past few weeks, didn’t look match sharp and, as mentioned above, continually dropped too deep in search of possession. However, the Gerrard-Henderson partnership in holding midfield showed signs of promise, obviously helped by the fact they played at Liverpool all season together.
Going into the Ecuador game in Miami the main question marks were over the right-back position and Wayne Rooney. Roy responded by starting with the versatile James Milner at RB in the following team: Foster/Milner-Jones-Smalling-Shaw/ Lampard-Wilshere/ Ox-Barkley-Rooney/ Lambert. After floundering a few early opportunities we found ourselves 1 down after a cross from wide was headed in at the back post. The response to this will have pleased Roy Hodgson as we looked menacing on the attack, led by Ross Barkley and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. A superb Ross Barkley burst led to our 2nd goal for Rickie Lambert, but we couldn’t see the game through and conceded mid-way through the second half with the final result being 2-2. There were various positives to take from this game; the players seemed to have plenty of energy despite playing in high temperatures which they were perhaps not accustomed to. The Ox and Barkley were very good at times going forward and Luke Shaw showed promise in the 2nd half. A goal for Rickie Lambert will also have done him the world of good knowing that he will most likely get an opportunity to make an impact at some point in the tournament. There were, however, a few below-par performances including Chris Smalling, who honestly doesn’t look like an international footballer. Frank Lampard and Jack Wilshere also gave the ball away in crucial areas at times throughout the game, which against higher-class opposition may have been more costly. The most important thing that we gained from this game is the knowledge that James Milner playing at right back simply won’t work; it’s a difficult position to pick up if you don’t play there regularly and this was evident throughout the match.
From the two warm-up matches I would say we learnt the following key points:
1) Wayne Rooney needs to play vs Honduras to gain more match fitness.
2) If we get any injuries to our regular back four we will be in trouble.
3) Ross Barkley has got the ability to perform and make a difference at the highest level.
The following team I shall mention is the best XI that I think we could put out at this tournament (lack of injuries permitting). This may not, however, be the team that I would put out against Italy with it being the opening game of the tournament and the likely man-marking of Andrea Pirlo. I think the back 5 picks itself in Hart-Johnson-Cahill-Jagielka-Baines. After that I would go with a holding two of Gerrard and Henderson with Henderson just edging it ahead of Jack Wilshere. Daniel Sturridge up front is another obvious choice because of his superb form for Liverpool this season. The hardest part of picking this team is which 3 players you play behind Daniel Sturridge. From what I’ve seen of people’s ‘Best Starting XI’s’ I haven’t seen the one which I’m about to suggest very often, I would select Rooney-Barkley-Sterling as our 3 players in these positions. This may seem very harsh on Adam Lallana, who has had a fantastic season for Southampton, but I will explain why I have chosen these 3 players. Wayne Rooney has to play if he’s fit, he’s a vital member of the dressing room and our best player when fully fit. I feel to hurt teams we need to have pace in our team, we have this with Daniel Sturridge up front but another player is needed and this is why I’ve chosen Raheem Sterling (if the Ox hadn’t got injured I would have chosen him ahead of Sterling). This leaves one remaining space which, in my opinion, comes down to Barkley vs Lallana, I would go with the bolder option of Barkley who really has that X-factor in his play and is willing to run directly at opponents. This 3 behind Sturridge is very flexible and the players in question could interchange positions with all 3 of them capable of playing anywhere across the forward line, therefore always giving the opposition defence something to think about.
So to summarise my best England XI would be: Hart/Johnson-Cahill-Jagielka-Baines/Gerrard-Henderson/Sterling-Barkley-Rooney/Sturridge
Do you agree with Sam? Tweet @0riginal Footy to have your say on England’s best XI.