Picking the Best England Starting Lineup to Take on San Marino
Let's be honest here, England shouldn't have too much trouble dispatching San Marino. The real questions will be asked when Roy Hodgson's team take on Group H leaders Montenegro in Podgorica just four days later.
Montenegro were ranked 117th in the FIFA international ranking system in 2009. In four short years they have jumped almost 100 places to 28th. England, for their part, were ranked ninth in 2009 and are now classed as the fourth best team in the world.
During the same period, San Marino have dropped from 201st to 207th.
They are the joint-worst team in world football with the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Roy Hodgson could pick a team from this article's readers and still be confident of a victory.
Much as we would like that, it isn't a luxury he can afford. Momentum and giving experience to youngsters who will play a key part in his Brazil 2014 squad are a must.
With that in mind Hodgson can experiment somewhat, but he will still want to keep the same nucleus together for that all-important showdown in Montenegro.
Here, Bleacher Report looks at Picking the Best England Starting Lineup to Take on San Marino, with a view to facing Montenegro 96 hours later.
Ben Foster , Joe Hart, Fraser Forster.
Leighton Baines, Gary Cahill, Ashley Cole, Jolean Lescott, Steven Caulker , Glen Johnson, Chris Smalling, Kyle Walker.
Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, James Milner, Leon Osman, Scott Parker , Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ashley Young.
Jermain Defoe, Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge, Daniel Welbeck, Theo Walcott.
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It doesn't really matter what formation Roy Hodgson goes for against San Marino. England are a world footballing super power and should have the capacity to beat almost any team set against them, never mind the 207th-ranked team in the world.
Where formation and game plans come into play will be their second fixture of this international window. Four days after England travel to the principality, they will take a short flight to Podgorica where they will face Montenegro.
England will be favourites to beat both San Marino and Montenegro. However, the City Stadium in Podgorica is extremely narrow and holds just 13,000 fans. The vast majority of which will be of the home partisan variety.
With the Montenegro fixture in mind, I expect Hodgson to choose a 4-3-3 formation for both games. The key to getting out of Podgorica alive is in winning the midfield battle. Branko Brnovic has employed a 4-3-3 recently to great effect. His forward line are, arguably, world-class and can cause any team problems.
Hodgson will need to cut the supply lines to Stevan Jovetic, Mirko Vucinic and most probably Andrija Delibasic. If this is neglected, it could be a long night in Montenegro.
The beauty of the 4-3-3 is that with intelligent players it can be turned into a variety of different formations with the flick of a switch.
England will need that kind of versatility to take all six points from the two games.
Goalkeeper: Joe Hart
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Goalkeepers: Ben Foster , Joe Hart, Fraser Forster.
Despite his below-par season, his recent poor form and his two rivals' recent good form, Joe Hart must start against San Marino.
All things being equal, Hart is a class or two above both Ben Foster and Fraser Forster. The West Brom man and the Celtic stopper have enjoyed good seasons. But even with Hart's being below what is expected of the Manchester City man, he has still had as good a season as both Foster and Forster.
The main reasons he needs to be picked are his greater experience combined with the fact that, barring injury, he will lead England out to combat in Brazil 2014. Foster has had his chance and is no more than a backup. Forster is an interesting choice but does not have the experience to play in two vital international matches so close together.
The Celtic man would be best blooded in a series of friendlies such as the upcoming Republic of Ireland, Brazil and Scotland matches during the summer.
Defenders: Glen Johnson, Leighton Baines, Jolean Lescott, Gary Cahill
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There are a few tough questions awaiting Roy Hodgson when it comes to selecting his defence.
He has far too many defenders out of form with their clubs, without match practice or coming off the back of a tough run of fixtures. As a man who likes to employ a tried and trusted four at the back, Hodgson must juggle these eight men expertly.
Ashley Cole played for Chelsea in their 2-0 win over West Ham and faces an increasingly difficult club fixture list in the weeks ahead. Add this to Leighton Baines' fine form, and one can easily see Hodgson rewarding Baines with a starting berth against San Marino, before Cole resumes his left-back duties against Montenegro.
Neither Glen Johnson nor Kyle Walker have set the world alight this season. Both have been consistently inconsistent for their respective clubs, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. Fabio Capello favoured Walker. Hodgson has almost exclusively used Johnson since taking over the reins from the Italian. Expect that trend to continue over both matches.
Gary Cahill has been in and out of the Chelsea lineup recently. He has yet to nail down a regular spot for the Blues. However, he boasts far more first-team football than any of his recent squad-mates bar Rio Ferdinand. The news that Ferdinand is out will be a bitter blow for both the player and Hodgson. his experience would have been vital over the two games.
Jolean Lescott should now take up the centre-half berth with Cahill. This will be the likely duo to face Montenegro. But as England are vulnerable in both full-back positions and the game is unlikely to be too taxing expect, both to start against San Marino too. If anything, the only other possibility I see is Chris Smalling instead of Lescott, which may happen at some stage.
Midfielders: Tom Cleverley, Steven Gerrard, James Milner
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Midfielders: Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, James Milner, Leon Osman, Scott Parker , Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ashley Young, Aaron Lennon out.
Tom Cleverley should be the first name on the midfield team sheet as far as Roy Hodgson is concerned.
It is not because the Manchester United star is a prodigious talent. It is because he is the best young player England have available and will be an essential part of Brazil 2014. He is a tireless tyro and will work ceaselessly. He also needs to build up his international experience; a game like this where expectation can be elevated is ideal for his development.
The choices get tougher for the other two spots.
Steven Gerrard is almost guaranteed to start as captain. However, one would expect him to drive the team to an early victory so he can take an early rest, with bigger fish to fry a few days later.
The last berth is an awkward one. Scott Parker is the most mobile. Frank Lampard is the most experienced and most likely to score. Michael Carrick and James Milner will pass the ball with ease, while Leon Osman and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, at opposite ends of their careers, are both inexperienced on the international stage.
The choice is between Parker and Milner because of their mobility, but Milner should pip it because he is a far better passer than his Spurs rival.
Lampard may be introduced at some stage, most likely for Gerrard.
Forwards: Wayne Rooney, Daniel Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge
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Forwards: Jermain Defoe, Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge, Daniel Welbeck, Theo Walcott.
Wayne Rooney is a must-start for a variety of reasons. The main one being that the Manchester United star has enjoyed a torrid couple of weeks. Being left out of United's team to face Real Madrid caused a media frenzy about the Liverpudlian's future with the club.
The last thing both he and Roy Hodgson need is another bout of hysteria. Apart from that, Rooney is easily England's best forward and is key to qualifying for Brazil.
He should be joined by his Red Devils' teammate, Danny Welbeck, and Liverpool's impressive Daniel Sturridge.
With these three players, Hodgson has the ability to drop Rooney into midfield and go with a two-man strike-force, or to play all three up with Rooney just behind the pairing. They also balance the team naturally with Welbeck drifting to the left as Sturridge drifts to the right.
The San Marino game is an ideal chance for Sturridge to start and to stake a claim in the starting team. As he is still inexperienced, I fully expect Theo Walcott to start against Montenegro in his place, leaving Jermain Defoe to replace Rooney or Welbeck as the game progresses.