Why Roy Hodgson's Preferred Team Doesn't Point to World Cup Success for England
Roy Hodgson has taken the step of naming most of his starting XI for England's World Cup qualifier against Moldova on Friday, and although the weak opposition shouldn't pose any barrier to an England win, it doesn't bode well for overcoming future hurdles.
Hodgson confirmed, as per BBC Sport, that a midfield trio of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Jack Wilshere would be in place, while Rickie Lambert would be the starting centre-forward. Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck would support him in attack, from the right and left flanks respectively.
Almost regardless of the side, England should waltz to victory at Wembley against lowly Moldova, but a trip to Kiev on Tuesday to face Ukraine will be an altogether different proposition, as will the finals themselves if England make it to Brazil 2014.
Three of a Kind
England's midfield troika of Gerrard, Lampard and Wilshere is a talented enough bunch and no mistake, but playing these three together is going to make England vulnerable against stronger opposition.
Vision, technical ability and attacking instincts are found in abundance, but none have the positional know-how to hold a midfield together in the face of opposition runners from deep, and none are exactly blessed with lightning pace, despite Wilshere's all-action style and willingness to run.
Essentially, Hodgson has selected three players for midfield who all play the same role at club level: the 'middle' midfielder, picking up the ball in deep areas and distributing to team-mates to initiate attacks.
At Liverpool, Gerrard has Brazilian duo Lucas Leiva behind and Philippe Coutinho in front, while Lampard has similar surroundings with Ramires behind and Oscar in front. Wilshere has often found himself further forward in the No. 10 role, presumably where he will play for England now, but the arrival of Mesut Ozil means he will also be a second central midfielder, behind the German and alongside one of Aaron Ramsey or Mikel Arteta.
Again, goals shouldn't be too hard to come by against Moldova, but against better sides, the lack of a real support player to link midfield and attack and get beyond the striker, could cost England just as dearly as the lack of a real defensive midfielder could.
Danny Welbeck: Right Player, Wrong Role
On current form, there should be no question that Danny Welbeck should be in the England side. He has started the season well for his club, Manchester United, and has shown enough in England's recent international games to suggest he deserves his spot in the team.
Against Moldova, however, it might have been pertinent to either play Welbeck in a central role—as the striker or playing just off Lambert—rather than on the flank.
Hard-working, pacy and direct, Welbeck will look to get into the penalty area as often as possible from the wide areas of the pitch, and the smart money would likely be on him having chances to add to his international goal tally on Friday.
However, his natural movement is invariably going to narrow England's attack to a point, in a game where they will expect to dominate possession in the opposition's half of the field.
Untested that is he at international level, this might have been an ideal time for Hodgson to use Andros Townsend on the left flank. His own pace and left-footed ability will help to stretch the Moldova defence across the width of the pitch, letting Welbeck do his own best work closer to goal. The Spurs man may yet be needed as a weapon off the bench if England are struggling to break the minnows down often enough.
In terms of England's future preparations, it should be seen as unlikely that Welbeck will feature too often from the left side with the quantity and quality of others in the squad who can fill the same role.
Hodgson's Chances to Change
Almost certainly, the England boss will have to make changes for the next game in Ukraine.
Daniel Sturridge should be back from injury and will presumably feature up front, while Wayne Rooney is also absent for these two games.
Home games against Montenegro and Poland conclude the group, while England will play a friendly against Uruguay in March, by which time both nations will hope to have qualified for the 2014 World Cup.
The suspicion is that the manager will certainly have to find the right combination in midfield by that time, almost certainly with Michael Carrick playing a key role and Gerrard or Lampard making way. Jack Wilshere faces a big season ahead to prove he can be as key for club and country as the nation wants him to be.
Beyond that, there is little margin for error for Hodgson and England.
With everybody fit and in-form, Sturridge and Rooney should be the likeliest attacking pairing, Joe Hart is a shoo-in as goalkeeper and the back four almost picks itself because of a startling lack of depth. Hodgson needs to get his midfield in particular right, and sooner rather than later.
A defeat in Kiev would leave England in unthinkable danger of not qualifying for the World Cup finals, not even via the playoffs, and the manager's job would undoubtedly be the consequence of that failing.
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