It’s squeaky bum time for Roy Hodgson.
The new England coach has a grand total of two friendlies to prepare his squad and assess his options before England’s Euro 2012 adventures kick off against France on June 11.
This Saturday, England travel to Norway for Hodgson’s first game in charge of his national team, and he will welcome the visit of Belgium to Wembley Stadium a week from Saturday.
Two games for him to decide on his approach this summer.
Here are eight options Roy Hodgson must experiment with during England’s pre-tournament friendlies.
In the goalkeeping department, Roy Hodgson rewarded John Ruddy’s fine season for Norwich with a call-up to the full England squad.
And in a show of courtesy, he has also allowed Ruddy to miss England’s second and final pre-Euro friendly against Belgium for the Norwich keeper’s long-awaited wedding.
Which means Ruddy must see at least 45 minutes on the pitch this Saturday.
Otherwise, England would be kicking off their tournament with a second-choice keeper who plays in the Championship, and a third-choice who has never worn an England jersey.
Given Martin Kelly’s consistently assured performances on Liverpool’s right flank, it was only a matter of time before he would be given a chance at the international level.
He has finally gotten his chance.
While Kelly hasn’t been named in Hodgson’s preliminary squad for the Euros, he’s been called up for this Saturday’s friendly against Norway, confirming his rise to the top.
Hodgson would be wise to give Kelly a chance on Saturday to see how he gets on in an England shirt.
Who knows? He could be another versatile defensive option in Poland and Ukraine.
The big news in the England defence was Hodgson’s decision to not include Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand as one of his central defensive options.
Lescott, Terry and Cahill all have their respective qualities that suggest they would be decent starting options in the center of Hodgson’s back four, but he will have to try them out on the field.
Two friendlies might not be enough time to really assess his best two, but it will have to make do for now.
After a round of speculation on Tottenham midfield general Scott Parker’s fitness for the tournament, he was passed fit to take part in training ahead of Saturday’s friendly.
But having to rely on a marginally-fit 31-year-old as a central midfield starter, no matter how much he has asserted himself in the starting lineup, smacks of a poor judgment call overall.
And so Hodgson must make use of the Norway and Belgium matches to try out a Parker-less central midfield, which presumably makes City’s Gareth Barry a first-choice option.
Should Lampard force his way back into the side after a roller-coaster season with Chelsea?
Or maybe James Milner should be tested in a more defensive and central role?
Is there any place for the attack-minded and unpredictable Phil Jones?
Or will Steven Gerrard be moved back into his favored central midfield position?
Speaking of Steven Gerrard, he is now one of England’s few options on the right side of midfield.
Should Hodgson stick with his favored 4-4-2 formation, only Milner and Arsenal’s Theo Walcott (only just) have any sort of experience on the right flank.
And neither of them offers what Gerrard does on the right: pace, shooting, cutting in, vision and crossing.
With Andy Carroll as an important option for England up front, Gerrard would be able to replicate his burgeoning partnership with his Anfield colleague in an England shirt.
Roy Hodgson would also do well to note that Gerrard’s finest ever season personally was played on the right side of Liverpool’s attacking midfield trio.
Hodgson made a few debatable calls for the England midfield (notably by calling up James Milner and Stewart Downing and having Jordan Henderson on standby), but he made an absolutely right decision in summoning Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to his squad.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is a unique option for England.
He brings unparalleled youthful drive, powerful running, dribbling and fantastic attacking positioning.
While he might not be experienced enough to be considered a starter just yet, he might make his name this summer as the best impact substitute in the Euros.
Which needs to start on Saturday.
Danny Welbeck has spent his club season alongside the unselfish and consummate team player that is Wayne Rooney.
Who happens to be suspended for England’s first two games in the European Championships.
Welbeck’s impressive dovetailing with Rooney fired Manchester United to being minutes away from retaining their Premier League title, keeping out Javier Hernandez along the way.
But how exactly will Welbeck fare without Rooney?
Would a Rooney-less Welbeck make the same kind of impact with other players around him?
Toward the end of the season, Liverpool’s Andy Carroll enjoyed what has to be called a mini-resurrection in his footballing career, with a series of dominant performances against a variety of Premier League defences.
Roy Hodgson took note and called him up to the England squad.
Without Peter Crouch, Carroll is now the only recognized target-man in the England attack, which once again directs the spotlight his way.
But his barnstorming performances in the closing weeks of the 2011-2012 season offered renewed hopes that he could actually fulfill his much-touted potential.
To complete his return to the top, Carroll will need Hodgson to give him the chance to don the England No. 9 shirt, and keep doing his thing.
Even considering Roy Hodgson’s squad, the sheer number of combinations and options that he has at his disposal makes for some interesting ideas and exciting discussions.
What would you try out in England’s two pre-Euro friendlies if you were in his place?
Let us know in the comments below.
If you liked this article, you might also be interested in England’s Starting XI Options. Stay tuned for extensive coverage of the Euros on my Bleacher Report writer’s profile, and please also check out my blog, The Red Armchair, for Liverpool opinions and match reactions.