England picked up another impressive result last night with their 2-1 victory over Brazil.
Having also beaten Italy in a friendly since the Azzurri dumped them out of Euro 2012 on penalties, it looks as if Roy Hodgson’s team are moving in the right direction.
Yet the victory over Brazil was far from a perfect performance and there are still issues to address before the World Cup (assuming that England qualify).
In goal, Joe Hart hasn’t been in quite the impervious form this season for Manchester City as he was last term, but he is still undoubtedly England’s No. 1.
With some promising young keepers such as Fraser Forster and Jack Butland also progressing, it looks as if England could soon be boasting their strongest collection of goalkeepers for many years.
The one position in defence where there are no issues at all is at left-back. In Ashley Cole you have one of the best left-backs in the world and if you want more attacking verve, then Leighton Baines demonstrated last night just how effective he can be getting forward.
England are less strong at right-back. Glen Johnson is neither as good going forward as Baines, or defensively as Cole. Last season Kyle Walker looked destined to make the position his own but has since regressed.
Don’t rule out Walker’s fellow Tottenham starlet Adam Smith from making a late run for the squad in Brazil. Smith has been highly impressive at Millwall this season, was superb for the U21 side in midweek and is set to return to Spurs for next season.
Central defence is the most problematic area of the England team. The era of England being able to choose between John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Ledley King and Jamie Carragher is over.
The next generation of central defenders—Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Joleon Lescott and Michael Dawson—just aren’t as good as their predecessors.
England must hope that one of the generation after that comes good. Steven Caulker has played well for Spurs this season, but is not a regular yet. At Manchester United, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have found their development hampered by injuries and their own versatility.
The midfield looked like the strongest area of the team against Brazil. Barring injury, Jack Wilshere is assured of a place in Hodgson’s starting XI. As captain, the same can be said of Steven Gerrard even at 32 years old.
Tom Cleverley has played well for England under Hodgson, but ideally someone with more defensive capabilities would give better balance to the midfield. Gerrard has been noticeably more disciplined under Hodgson, but England were still open to counter-attacks through the centre last night.
The leading candidates to assume such a role—Scott Parker, Michael Carrick and Gareth Barry—are all the wrong side of 30.
With the World Cup still some 18 months away, a younger alternative has to be found, especially considering that Gerrard will be less mobile by then. Don’t be surprised if it’s the selfless James Milner.
In attack, Wayne Rooney looked very assured as England’s central striker. Theo Walcott constantly caused problems with his pace down the right and on another evening would have scored.
Danny Welbeck was not so impressive on the left. It’s not his natural position and though he worked very hard for the team, Hodgson would surely like to find someone who is more natural and can contribute more from that role.
Rooney could do it of course, but Welbeck doesn’t carry the same sort of goal threat through the middle and why would you want to marginalise your best player?
The good news for England is that they have wide players in abundance. Aaron Lennon is playing as well as he ever has at Spurs and is a danger when cutting in from the left. Ashley Young and Adam Johnson are not currently at their best but are both talented players.
Then there’s the younger generation of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Raheem Sterling and Wilfried Zaha. When you look at those names it’s clear that it is in the wide areas where England have the most strength in depth, which makes you wonder why Welbeck and then Milner were played out of position.
There’s a lot of answers to still be found and England fans have seen enough failures that their expectations in Brazil will be realistic. However, the signs are there that Hodgson is building a side that is both competitive and attractive to watch.
If only someone had the sense to give him the job years ago.