Raheem Sterling

Weekend Preview and Predictions

@0riginalfooty takes a look at the weekend fixtures for the 31st round of Premier League football. Last time out we got five out of ten predictions right and no correct scores. Will we do better this week?

Saturday

Arsenal vs Liverpool (12:45)
As far as I’m concerned, Arsene Wenger’s side have already confirmed a top-four spot and there is a genuine possibility that they will finish second as Man City continue to falter. Liverpool lost a crucial battle in the race for the Champions League places and this match could prove to be a last hurrah for them. They are under pressure following their defeat to Man United and Raheem Sterling’s contract saga is not making life any more comfortable around Anfield. With home advantage for The Gunners, I’d expect them to come out on top.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool

Everton vs Southampton (15:00)
The Toffees have strung together some decent results in the last few weeks and their safety is all but confirmed. Southampton, meanwhile, refuse to give up the possibility of nabbing a Champions League spot but realistically it will be beyond them. Having said that, they are more than capable of winning against a team who have nothing to play for.
Prediction: Everton 1-2 Southampton

Leicester vs West Ham (15:00)
This is a must-win game for Nigel Pearson’s team. If they fail to win then I can’t see any way back for them. The Hammers did every relegation-threatened side a huge favour by beating Sunderland last time out but Leicester will know that this is a team whose season is over and they simply have to win. I still think The Foxes will be relegated but I’ll back them to make things at the bottom even more interesting with a home win.
Prediction: Leicester 1-0 West Ham

Man United vs Aston Villa (15:00)
Louis van Gaal was under great pressure prior to the matches against Spurs and Liverpool but his side have come away with two excellent victories to put them in complete control of earning a top-four spot. Villa suffered a poor home result against Swansea in their last match and it has thrown them firmly back into the relegation mix. Tim Sherwood’s side may have half an eye on the crucial home match against QPR on Tuesday night but it is important that they put in a good performance to keep morale in the camp high. Villa certainly have the weapons to hurt van Gaal’s team if they play to their best and they will make a game of it but it’s hard to look past United in this one.
Prediction: Man United 3-1 Aston Villa

Swansea vs Hull (15:00)
The Swans continue to impress and look determined to end their season on a high. Hull have also been in decent form and gave Chelsea a run for their money in their last match. Two more wins would virtually guarantee safety for The Tigers and this is a game they could certainly get something out of but Garry Monk seems intent on finishing the season strongly and I think they will get the three points.
Prediction: Swansea 2-1 Hull

West Brom vs QPR (15:00)
The Baggies are another team looking to secure their top-flight status and Tony Pulis will be confident of achieving safety if they manage to beat hapless QPR. The R’s continue to put in poor performance after poor performance but this is the biggest week of their season. West Brom are by no means unbeatable and then they face one of the sides they could realistically catch in the form of Aston Villa on Tuesday. If they could get four points from those two matches then they would be right back in it. Sadly for them, I fancy Pulis’ team to be too strong for them.
Prediction: West Brom 2-0 QPR

Chelsea vs Stoke (17:30)
The Blues edged another step closer to claiming the title with a nervy 3-2 win over Hull and it would be amazing to witness anything other than Chelsea’s colours around the trophy this season. Stoke have tied Mark Hughes down to a new contract while the international break has been going on and they have enjoyed another solid campaign. It won’t be an easy match for Jose Mourinho’s team but one they should win.
Prediction: Chelsea 2-1 Stoke

Sunday

Burnley vs Spurs (13:30)
The Clarets are still in the frame for survival and a win here would lift them out of the relegation places for at least a couple of hours. Their opponents, however, will have seen at least one of their rivals for a top-four spot drop points on Saturday as Liverpool and Arsenal face off against each other and simply cannot afford to slip up against opposition of this ilk. Sean Dyche’s team won’t let them have it easy but I fancy Tottenham to just about nick it.
Prediction: Burnley 1-2 Spurs

Sunderland vs Newcastle (16:00)
This Tyne-Wear derby has plenty riding on it, particularly for Sunderland. The Black Cats sit a point above the relegation places and are in atrocious form. Dick Advocaat got off to a losing start against West Ham but will have had time to work with his team during the international break. Newcastle, on the other hand, are meandering towards the end of another mediocre season and defeat here would not go down well with their support. This could go either way so I’ll go for a draw.
Prediction: Sunderland 1-1 Newcastle

Monday

Crystal Palace vs Man City (20:00)
Alan Pardew’s new team rose above his former charges in the table with their victory over Stoke and he deserves great credit for what he has achieved at Selhurst Park. City put in a much better performance against West Brom in their last match but they can’t afford to drop another point if they are to have any chance of winning the title. This is not an easy fixture and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Palace get something out of it but City should edge it.
Crystal Palace 1-2 Man City

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England vs Uruguay: The Post Mortem

This is one of the toughest posts I’ve had to sit and write. Having been filled with genuine optimism after the hearty performance and narrow defeat against Italy, England came into a game against an aging Uruguay side who had just been comfortably beaten by a Costa Rica side who many considered prior to the World Cup to be the weakest team in the group. Fast-forward to the end of the match and all that is left is the despair of a nation and genuine devastation at the thought of what might have been as England are on the brink of being knocked out of the World Cup. In this post, I will assess some of the things that worked against England that were unavoidable. Finally, I will defend Roy Hodgson’s position as manager and argue that he should at least be allowed to continue until Euro 2016.

The points I will highlight are factors that were wholly out of England’s control and that are testament to the cruel nature of luck within football. England were dealt three major blows either before or during this match that, in my opinion, really shaped the outcome. Please note I am not arguing that these are the only reasons that England are in grave danger of being knocked out of the competition, rather, that there were factors beyond our control.

The first, and most obvious, was the untimely return of Luis Suarez. Just a month after surgery on his knee, one of the World’s best players returned to score two goals of genuine quality as well as almost scoring directly from two corners. A player of his class is hard to come by and, ultimately, he was the difference on the night.

The return of Suarez was a huge boost for the Uruguayans

The return of Suarez was a huge boost for the Uruguayans

Furthermore, an arguably more important factor was the removal of Diego Lugano. Lugano, who is Uruguay’s captain, picked up an injury prior to the match and was not fit enough to play. This was severely to England’s detriment. The 38 year old is probably the slowest player at the World Cup and there is no doubt that the likes of Sturridge, Sterling and Rooney could have exploited the space in behind him and caused countless headaches for their backline. Instead, 19-year-old Jose Maria Giminez came in, who is infinitely faster than Lugano, and the space was gone.

Uraguay's loss of Diego Lugano may also have been to their advantage

Uraguay’s loss of Diego Lugano may also have been to their advantage

Finally, Diego Godin should have been sent off after 30 minutes. He received his first booking for deliberately handling the ball on the edge of the penalty area. Minutes later, he chopped at Daniel Sturridge’s throat after Sturridge had knocked it past him to move into a dangerous position on the right side of Uruguay’s penalty area and inexplicably the referee failed to book him again and brandish a red card. Had Uruguay been down to ten men there could have been a wholly different outcome to the match.

Diego Godin was very lucky to escape a red card

Diego Godin was very lucky to escape a red card

This may read rather bitter and sound as though I’m just making excuses but I’m keen to stress that these were not the only reasons England are (most probably) knocked out of the World Cup. However, I am merely highlighting the fine margins in football and demonstrating how cruel it can often be. England were the victim of misfortune on this occasion. Had Suarez needed but one more day to recover he would not have inflicted such damage upon our goal, had Lugano been fit we may have had more clear-cut opportunities and had the referee, frankly, done his job then would have been playing against 10 men for the majority of the match and surely at least managed a draw.

As I alluded to earlier, these are not the only reasons England lost the match. If truth be told, whilst England did not deserve to lose the match, we would be hard pushed to find an unbiased fan who could say that England truly deserved to win the match comfortably. They didn’t play badly but were sloppy at times in possession, defensively naïve and lacking the cutting edge required to really make the difference at international level. Conversely, Uruguay had all the cutting edge a side could desire in the form of Luis Suarez. Having said that, I feel it is very difficult to lay blame at the manager’s door. This was not a World Cup campaign like in 2010 where we underperformed against really poor sides before being humbled by a side simply far superior to ourselves. Instead, it was a campaign where England have given a good account of themselves against two relatively strong and experienced sides and fallen just short of what is required.

There are few that would argue that Roy Hodgson has done a bad job, despite not winning a game at the finals. I think his selections have generally been positive and England have gone out to try and win games rather than just hope for a draw. It may not have paid off on this occasion but the attitude was right and I think Hodgson has merited another chance to take England to a big tournament at the Euro’s in 2016. In the mean time, dust off your replica Italy shirts and prepare to support the Azzurri for back-to-back wins to give England a chance to secure the unlikeliest of comebacks and keep the World Cup dream alive!

Do you agree that Hodgson should stay on as England manager? Tweet @0riginalfooty and have your say.

England vs Uruguay: the key battles

Tonight is the night where England’s destiny will be sealed. Fans will be on the edges of their seats as they take on a hurting Uruguayan side that will be desperate to bounce back. Both sides will be desperate for a win but who will come out on top? Here we take a look at the key battles that will take place on the field tonight and suggest where the game will be won or lost.

Gary Cahill vs Luis Suarez

Suarez’s return will be a huge boost for the Uruguayans. Against Costa Rica they looked extremely one dimensional and lacking any spark and creativity that, in my opinion, Edison Cavani rarely fails to provide. Suarez, in comparison, has it all. He will pester defenders all night long and cause England endless headaches. On his day he is absolutely unstoppable and even when he isn’t on top form, you can guarantee that the defenders will have had a tough evening. Cahill is quickly becoming England’s most important defensive player having had a fine season with Chelsea but he will need to be at the top of his game tonight to keep Suarez at bay and to organize an unconvincing English back line.

Raheem Sterling vs Egidio Arevalo

Sterling and Rooney will most likely have fluid roles behind Sturridge and Sterling will most likely be marshaled by Egidio Arevalo. Arevalo is a ferocious, hard working and experienced centre-midfielder with wild-dog-like tenacity and will be snapping at Sterling’s heels all night long. Sterling can, however, take real heart from his performance against Italy and believe that he can mix it with the best on the international stage. If he performs as we know he can, he will give Arevalo a really hard nights work.

Daniel Sturridge vs Jose Maria Giminez

This is where England will feel the match can be won. Diego Godin is a quality centre back but is not the quickest defender. At Atletico Madrid he plays alongside the pacey Miranda who can easily cover Godin’s lack of pace. However, there is no Miranda for Argentina. Godin normally plays alongside the snail-paced Uruguayan captain Diego Lugano who endured a torrid season for West Bromwich Albion. However, Lugano has been ruled out with injury so in comes 19 year old centre back Giminez. Giminez is an inexperienced centre back but will offer more pace than Lugano so that could work in Uruguay’s favour If Sturridge can play on the shoulder of Godin and the likes of Rooney and Sterling can provide the quality of pace required to thread it through the defence then England will get plenty of joy as the night goes on and Sturridge will find himself on the score-sheet again.

 

Overall, England should go in to this game believing that they can and, in my opinion, should win against a fairly average and aging Uruguayan side. If our attackers play to the best of their abilities, they will break down their defense and I will be stunned if England does not manage to score at least one goal. However, the three lions must cut all the supply to Suarez to get success and when he does get the ball he must be stopped as soon as possible, by a foul if necessary. Suarez’s inclusion does make this a much tougher match but there is no reason that England can’t get the all important victory tonight and begin their push for qualification to the last 16.

England 1 – 2 Italy : match report

A disappointing but not unexpected result in Manaus has left England’s hopes of group qualification looking somewhat precarious.

After a highly spirited performance, England will find themselves hard done by to finish the game without a point to show for their efforts.

England started so promisingly with early long range efforts from Sterling and Henderson, the former cruelly rippling the side netting in a manner that sent many England fans into a state of mistaken euphoria.

Antonio Candreva, who caused England’s left hand side no end of problems, forced Joe Hart into a less than convincing save from distance twenty minutes in. The Lazio man kept Leighton Baines constantly busy, who in truth could have done with more protection from his winger Rooney.

Shortly after, the first clear cut chance of the match fell to England. Welbeck beat his man on the right before sliding a low cross towards Sturridge who was ready to pounce in the centre, only for Andrea Barzagli to get a crucial touch, flicking the ball just inches away from the Liverpool striker.

The tempo dropped around the half hour mark, with both sides keeping the ball well when in possession and Pirlo looking increasingly threatening when allowed space.

England will be disappointed to have conceded in such a manner, but it was a well worked corner routine which put the Italians in front on 35 minutes. A clever dummy from Pirlo on the edge of the box allowed Marchisio to drill home from 25 yards. His low shot slotting through the legs of both Rooney and Cahill before finding the bottom left hand corner.

Just two minutes later however, England found themselves level. It was the perfect response, with an incisive counter attack allowing Rooney space on the left to play a perfectly weighted cross to Sturridge who still had a lot to do, but England’s number 9 made it look easy, converting coolly on the half-volley.

A nervous moment just before half time saw Joe Hart rush out to close down Mario Balotelli, who’s smart chip required a vital goal line header from Jagielka to see England in level at half time.

After the break Welbeck switched sides with Rooney to try and sure up England’s left hand side. It was to little effect however as once again Candreva had the better of Baines and supplied one of many superb crosses over Gary Cahill, leaving who else but Balotelli to nod in at the back post.

How England needed another quick response, but the Italians had learnt from their earlier mistake and bought on Motta for Veratti to sure up their midfield and suffocate the game.

Despite this, the best chance of the match fell to Wayne Rooney who picked up Baines’ excellent pass before cutting inside and fooling Sirigu who went the wrong way, but his shot rolled agonisingly wide leaving Roy Hodgson with his head in his hands.

In the last twenty minutes however, as England tried desperately to create chances, there were only free-kick efforts from specialists Baines and Pirlo to speak of. Pirlo’s strike was by far the more promising as he wickedly whipped the ball from right to left, only for it to plant the crossbar and fly over, leaving Joe Hart motionless and the crowd awestruck.

All in all, Italy probably deserved their victory but England will rue that Rooney miss which would have made their position in the group look far more promising. That said, with Uruguay’s shock loss against Costa Rica, England will fancy themselves to come out victorious in their next match if they can put in a similar performance, even if talisman Luis Suarez returns for the game.

England player ratings:

Hart : 6
A few nervous moments but generally solid. Couldn’t do much for either goal.

Baines : 5
Had a very tough afternoon against Candreva who was allowed to cross all too often. Did provide a good pass for Rooney’s chance.

Johnson : 6
Showed good attacking intent and generally solid, but perhaps should have been covering for Italy’s second.

Jagielka : 7
The best of our back four, looked assured and confident. Impressive.

Cahill : 6
Generally solid but caught out for Italy’s winner.

Gerrard : 6
A quiet night by his high standards, and wasn’t involved much going forward but kept the ball well on the whole.

Henderson : 6
Promising early on, with some good runs and a decent effort. Faded before being substituted.

Sterling : 8
Adventurous and dangerous for large parts of the match. Had a few great dribbles and put in some decent balls, also hit an excellent strike just wide.

Rooney : 5
Very quiet for much of the game. Didn’t provide adequate cover for Baines to help quell the threat of Candreva and Darmian. Missed the chance of the match but provided a sublime ball for Sturridge’s leveller.

Welbeck : 7
Never stopped running and showed his importance by winning the ball back on numerous occasions. Criticised for lacking drive going forward and taking easy options, but almost found Sturridge early on to put England in front.

Sturridge : 8
Found him self in good positions on a few occasions, had some good link up play with both Welbeck and Sterling and put away a superb finish for England’s equaliser. He should take a lot of confidence from that performance.

Subs: Barkley : 7 (on for Welbeck ’61) Showed promise, looking fearless and threatening going forward.

Wilshere : 5 (on for Henderson ’73) Looked to make things happen but gave away possession too easily.

Lallana : 6 (On for Sturridge ’79) Not given much time to make an impact, but looked good when he got the ball.

 

Top 11 youngsters set to shine in Brazil  

There’s been much talk surrounding the World Cup as to who the ‘big star’ will be? Will Lionel Messi finally become an all-time great by winning a World Cup with Argentina; can Cristiano Ronaldo carry his superb form from Real Madrid this year into the World Cup for Portugal or can Neymar finally live up to his big reputation and lead the host nation Brazil to World Cup glory. However, what is often overlooked is the impact that young players can have on the world stage and in this article I will identify a group of youngsters, 22 and under, who I believe can set the world alight this summer in Brazil.

 

11. Heung-Min Son – South Korea / Bayer Leverkusen – 21

Equally adept with both feet, lightening quick, an eye for goal and a venomous strike – Son might find himself a little hard done by to be at the bottom of this list. At just 21, the young Korean has already had three impressive seasons at HSV before Leverkusen splashed a reported €10 million on him and he has continued to show his class with a solid first season including 12 goals and 7 assists in all competition, the highlight of them being a hat-trick against his former club. Son already has 26 international caps to his name and has started both of Korea’s disappointing warm up fixtures, so expect the versatile attacker to be floating across their front line in their tricky group games.

 

10. William Carvalho – Portugal/Sporting Lisbon – 22

William is highly coveted across Europe and hopefully we’ll get to see him in the Premier League, with both Man United and Liverpool reportedly interested. The young defensive midfielder is another excellent prospect to come from Sporting’s academy. Showing maturity beyond his years, the imposing midfield figure has made the spot in front of the back four for Sporting his own this season and became a mainstay over the second half of the campaign. With pace, power and a strong tackle, William will be battling with the more experienced Fernando and Miguel Veloso for a starting birth against Germany. But having been given the full 90 in their impressive 5-1 win against Ireland, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bento keep faith in the youngster.

 

9. Atsu – Chelsea (on loan at Vitesse)/Ghana

Atsu is one of many young Chelsea players to be shipped out on loan, but the Ghanaian winger is probably the one who has impressed the most this season, of course after the two more obvious candidates also on this list. Picking up Vitesse fans’ player of the season award along the way, Atsu has shone in the Eredivise this season with his pace and trickery consistently troubling defenders. Dubbed ‘the African Messi’, there’s no doubt that there is much of expected of Atsu in coming years. However with a very tricky group indeed, Ghana will be playing with no fear in Brazil and this young starlet could well cause the German and Portuguese defences a number of problems.

 

8. Mateo Kovačić – Croatia / Inter Milan – 20

Despite the wealth of talent Croatia already boast in this position, in Rakitic and Modric, I’m still expecting this young man to make a splash in Brazil. Although he has struggled to find form this season, being deployed in a less favoured deeper role, Inter boss Mazzarri has continued to show faith in the youngster, giving him 45 league appearances across his two-year tenure. Expect to see plenty of tricks and flicks along with some mazy dribbles when he makes an impact off the bench.

 

7. Raheem Sterling – Liverpool/England – 19

I’m not sure this lad needs too much of an introduction following his absolutely superb season with Liverpool, which almost saw him crowned a Premier League champion, and perhaps should have seen him named Young Player of the Year. With his lightening pace he could be exactly what England need to stretch teams and hit them on the counter when our backs are almost inevitably against the wall. It will be interesting to see how much Hodgson uses him, especially now that Welbeck is reportedly out of the opener against Italy. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, plays on the left, right or through the middle, I’m backing this young man to make a big impact this summer.

 

6. Raphaël Varane – Real Madrid/France – 21

Hailed by Mourinho as “the best young defender in the world”, Varane has put in a string of first-rate performances for Real this season. Already a good reader of the game as well as being quick, strong and good on the ball, Varane will surely be in direct competition with the more experienced Sakho and Koscielny for a start in France’s opener against Honduras. If the youngster is allowed to impress in their relatively comfortable group games, we could well see him being one of the stand out players at the tournament.

 

5. Romelu Lukaku – Chelsea (on loan at Everton)/Belgium – 21

With Christian Benteke side-lined for the summer, this man is surely guaranteed a starting role for Belgium in Brazil, even if head coach Wilmots insists that it will “depend on the opponents” whether he will get the nod. That said, I don’t believe he will be capable of fulfilling the same role as the Aston Villa man who is a more natural target man due to his superior touch and general hold-up play. Nevertheless, Lukaku’s sheer pace and power, along with his clinical finishing and strength in the air means that he isn’t exactly a bad option. Having been banging them in during Belgium’s warm up games (even if his hat-trick against Luxembourg will not go on record), Lukaku will surely find himself amongst the goals in Brazil, especially considering the service he should be getting from the likes of Hazard, De Bruyne and Mirallas.

 

4. Thibaut Courtois – Chelsea (on loan at Atletico Madrid)/Belgium – 22

Courtois is surely the most exciting young keeper since Casillas. The young Belgium stopper has had yet another fantastic season with Athletico, keeping them in games on numerous occasions with some spectacular saves (especially his stunning stop against AC Milan in the Champions League quarter final). He has more than proven that he deserves his place in the starting 11 over the more experienced Mignolet. While Courtois may not need to be at his best to see Belgium through the group stages, with Germany or more likely Portugal to face in the next round, Courtois presence in the Belgian net may prove to be a deciding factor.

 

 

3. Paul Pogba – Juventus/France – 21

Having been ‘disrespected’ by Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United, Pogba has proved to be a revelation since joining Juventus. In the mould of Vieira, with slightly more attacking intent, the bullish centre mid will be let loose in Brazil and allowed to dominate the middle of the park, complimented by Cabaye and Matuidi. With no shortage of confidence plus the power and technical ability to back it up, don’t be surprised to see Pogba help France surpass expectations and maybe even bag himself another wonder goal (see strikes vs Udinese and Napoli).

 

2. James Rodriguez – AS Monaco/Columbia – 22

Cleary the loss of Falcao will be a huge blow to this promising Colombia side, but I’d still back them to meet expectations in this World Cup. Jackson Martinez has proved that he is capable of filling El Tigre‘s boots, and if James Rodriguez can continue his fine form, he will have no shortage of service. In this man they have an amazingly technical and creative young player. He boasts consistently impressive goal and assist records both for Porto, and in his debut season for Monaco following his €45 million move last summer. Rodriguez is highly versatile and equally strong on either side or down the middle, he has great delivery both from set pieces and open play, and has the mental sharpness to stay one step ahead of defenders. One thing’s for sure, England will not want to come up against this guy in the second round.

 

1.Neymar – Barcelona/Brazil – 22
Undoubtedly the player with the most pressure on him this summer, it seems at times that Brazil’s hopes on their home turf rest entirely on this lad’s shoulders, such is the media furore surrounding the Barcelona sensation. It’s easy to see, however, just why everyone is so excited to see Neymar in action in Brazil this summer. His magical dribbling and unparalleled technical ability leave him easily amongst the World’s best at just 22. I fully expect him to justify being one of the two favourites for the Golden Boot and light up the tournament with his sensational ability.

England Team Analysis vs Italy

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.

Stone’s view: What have we learnt about England in Miami and what is our best XI?

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.

There have been question marks over Johnson's recent performances

There have been question marks over Johnson’s recent performances

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.

Is Chris Smalling good enough to play for England?

Is Chris Smalling good enough to play for England?

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.

Will Ross Barkley play against Italy?

Will Ross Barkley play against Italy?

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.