England vs. Ukraine: Picking Roy Hodgson's Starting XI for Wembley
You can always tell when England is set to play a competitive international match by the collective drooling sound of the press and football fans all over the country.
After a very encouraging 5-0 win over Moldova on Friday, the anticipation for the Three Lions' World Cup qualifier against Ukraine Tuesday is going through the roof, as it always does when Roy Hodgson's side builds some momentum.
They will look to continue their progress against a Ukraine team that is now without its best-ever player, Andriy Shevchenko, but could really trouble England with their organized style of play. Plus, we know that the English almost always flatter to deceive.
Taking into account Hodgson's starting XI in the recent thrashing of Moldova, let's pick out the best side to do the same to Ukraine.
Goalkeeper: Joe Hart
Really a no-brainer here. As the No. 1 for Manchester City and England, Hart has firmly established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and there is really no threat to his position between the sticks for either club or country.
As the easiest selection Roy Hodgson has to make, the manager can feel completely secure with Hart guarding the goal.
Right-Back: Glen Johnson
After a very good performance against Moldova, it would be very surprising of Johnson did not get the nod once again against Ukraine.
His skill with the ball at his feet is a welcome addition to the right flank, as are his effective balance between attacking and defensive work.
He is first choice for Liverpool for a reason, and Johnson has managed to hold down his place in the national side by using the same ability that has made him an automatic selection for Brendan Rodgers.
Center-Back: Gary Cahill
Normally, Cahill would start Tuesday's game on the bench, but due to John Terry's late ankle injury against Moldova, he will probably replace his Chelsea teammate.
While he does not have quite the same defensive abilities as Terry, and, armband be damned, the same leadership skills, Cahill has developed into a very capable defender during his time with Chelsea and could have started at Euro 2012 if he wasn't injured.
Now, he will get the chance to show his stuff in a competitive match with his probable partner...
Center-Back: Joleon Lescott
After filling in for the aforementioned Gary Cahill during Euro 2012, the Manchester City defender has done well enough in Roy Hodgson's eyes to earn a spot in the starting XI.
For his club, Lescott has turned in some very solid performances alongside Vincent Kompany, and his height and strength are very valuable attributes in the center of defence.
He will likely be the more defensive of the two center-backs, and if he can play well, that will go a long way toward England keeping a clean sheet.
Left-Back: Leighton Baines
With automatic first-choice Ashley Cole out due to an injury, it becomes Leighton Baines' job to hold down the left flank, and he did extremely well against Moldova on Friday.
Personally, I believe that the position should be Baines' full-time, but since that will never happen as long as Cole has two able legs, he must do well in the limited opportunities that he gets, and he certainly took full advantage of his start against Moldova.
With a superb display at both ends of the pitch, Baines contributed something Cole never has for England—a goal. Using his superb free-kick skills, he smashed one in with the help of a deflection, and that will be a huge asset for England against Ukraine.
Central Midfielder: Frank Lampard
At the ripe old age of 34, Frank Lampard is still making the dynamic plays that won him his first England cap in 1999 and should beat out the likes of Michael Carrick for one of the two midfield spots.
Against Moldova, he partnered with Steven Gerrard well, and England's midfield flowed well with the two legends conducting things.
The energy and experience he brings to the center of the pitch cannot be overvalued, even if his partnership with Gerrard is sometimes uneasy.
Central Midfielder: Steven Gerrard
The captain might feel a bit out of place in Brendan Rodgers' slick Liverpool side but he is right at home in the engine room of England's midfield, and it is there where Gerrard can produce his best.
He can perform whatever role Roy Hodgson asks him to do, and if the cliche of the man who "pulls the strings" applies to anyone, Gerrard fits the bill.
Obviously, as captain, he exerts a certain amount of influence over the team that others do not, and he used his authority really well against Moldova, turning in a very effective performance that was instrumental in the Three Lions' 5-0 win.
Central Midfielder: Tom Cleverley
Out of everyone on Friday, young Tom Cleverley might have impressed the most from his position at the head of the midfield, making himself a nuisance around Moldova' penalty box and constantly creating chances.
His clever dribbling and neat passing kept England's attack flowing the way it always should be, and he won the penalty which Frank Lampard slotted home before missing what should have been a goal later in the match.
With such an encouraging performance for a manager who likes to integrate youth into the side, I would expect Cleverley to have easily earned himself a start in a competitive match.
Right Midfielder: Theo Walcott
While Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could possibly get the nod here, it would appear that Hodgson would turn to the more senior player after chastising the young winger for a lackadaisical second half against Moldova.
Obviously, Walcott's pace is something that no one else in the side can bring to the team, and, despite his inconsistency, he can single-handedly win the game for England. Having that unpredictability for the majority of the match is something that Hodgson might want.
Using Oxlade-Chamberlain as an impact sub, the manager will have some really threatening attacking options at his disposal.
Left Midfielder: James Milner
Yeah, yeah, I know Milner usually plays on the right side, but he has to get into the side somehow after his best-ever performance for England against Moldova, and he can still do well on the left.
He showed as much in the second half of the match, when, after Theo Walcott came on, he switched sides and was just as devastating with his intelligent running and pinpoint crossing.
After getting his first goal for his country, Milner's confidence is probably the highest it's been in a while, and he is a good bet to get on the mark again if Hodgson gives him the nod again.
Striker: Jermain Defoe
While the up-and-coming Danny Welbeck is making an earnest assault on the starting striker job in the absence of Wayne Rooney, Jermain Defoe is still the better player to lead the line at the moment.
Not even counting his tidy finish against Moldova, he had a superb game with outstanding movement that always put him one step ahead of his markers and constantly frightened the opposition's defence.
While he is perhaps not the ideal central striker, Defoe is an extremely efficient player whose combination of pace and footballing skill make him a potent weapon when in form.
For club and country, he sometimes suffers from underuse, but, when in form, Defoe is as useful as anyone else in the team.
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