I wrote an article a little while ago on what I thought England’s best Starting XI would be in the World Cup, as I stated then that was what I viewed as our ‘best team’ but necessarily the one I would play in our opening match against Italy in Manaus on Saturday. In this piece I will explain the team I would select vs Italy taking into account various factors such as Italy’s style of play and the conditions we will be playing in.
As has been well documented ever since the draw took place for the World Cup; our first game is in Manaus, a tropical rainforest in the north of Brazil. On Saturday the humidity is expected to be around 76% and temperature at 30 degree Celsius, they are extremely challenging conditions in which to be playing football. Despite preparing for conditions like this through our training camps in Portugal and Miami it will still be virtually impossible to play a high intensity pressing game. These conditions will be a perfect example of how this World Cup is going to be a 14 man game; substitutions will be of vital importance, as the differential in energy levels between the players that come on and the ones already on the pitch will be larger than usual.
The back 5 picks itself (not helped by the lack of options at right-back) with Joe Hart in goal, Glen Johnson at right-back, Cahill and Jagielka at centre-back and Leighton Baines at left-back. As with the majority of the matches England has played in the past few years under Roy Hodgson I would play a 4-2-3-1 formation with two holding midfielders. One of whom would be Steven Gerrard, who has performed that role so well for Liverpool in the second-half of the past Premier League season. I would start with Jordan Henderson alongside Gerrard not purely because of the natural chemistry that the two already possess from Liverpool but also because of the energy that Henderson gives to the team. Jack Wilshere would be a fine player to have coming off the bench for a game like this as he showed against Honduras on Saturday.
I believe Ross Barkley would also be best served as an impact player coming off the bench after about 65 minutes if all is going well, he is still perhaps not defensively up to scratch and in a game of this magnitude it’s important all players are tactically aware of what their roles are. If Ross Barkley played he would be playing in the hole behind Daniel Sturridge most likely, this would hand him the job of nullifying the threat of Andrea Pirlo. If lessons are to be learnt from Euro 2012 where Pirlo ran the show, it is important that we have someone dedicated to ‘doing a job’ on Pirlo and practically man-marking him. This is where the controversial selection of Danny Welbeck comes into place, Welbeck whilst not being the most technically gifted player England possess, has bags of energy and is willing to sacrifice himself for the benefit of the team. I would start Welbeck and play him on the left when we are going forward but importantly when we are defending I would give him the job of closing down Pirlo in the central area of the pitch. In my starting XI, Wayne Rooney would interchange with Danny Welbeck depending on whether or not we are attacking or defending, going forward I would have him in the hole behind Sturridge but defensively on the left allowing Welbeck to mark Pirlo.
The final selection decision that has to be made is who to start on the right-wing, it’s between Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana as to who gets that last space. Personally I would give Adam Lallana the nod in this game, I can just see Sterling being a complete nuisance coming off the bench in whichever situation we are in – winning, losing or drawing. That pace he possesses will terrorise defences when they’re mentally and physically tired after 70 odd minutes of the Manaus heat. Lallana is a brilliant, technical player and one who is unlikely to give the ball away often which will be of vital importance in this match.
With this starting XI on the bench we would have lots of options in both attack and defensive. Sterling, Wilshere and Barkley can all come if we need some more attacking impetus; Ricky Lambert can offer us that plan B if the Rooney-Sturridge link-up isn’t quite happening and the ever versatile James Milner could come on in holding-midfield to sure things up late on or even do a job on either wing if needed.
I would also like to add that this is also the team I think will start vs Italy, the Honduras match was the last chance Roy Hodgson had to look at his team vs Italy and he chose the same team as I mentioned above. The only thing he could possibly change is bringing Sterling in for Lallana as Sterling was somewhat controversially suspended for the Honduras game.