Ukraine vs. England: Players Who Must Perform for Roy Hodgson's Side

Nick AkermanFeatured ColumnistSeptember 10, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 06:  Joe Hart of England looks on during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifying Group H match between England and Moldova at Wembley Stadium on September 6, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Clive Rose/Getty Images

That dreaded feeling is here once again.

England face a date with destiny as the team travels to Ukraine for a hugely important showdown in both countries' quest for World Cup 2014 qualification. Will the Three Lions celebrate a huge Group H victory, or will Roy Hodgson be branded the next “Wally with the Brolly?”

The national boss has outlined this upcoming encounter as a cup final, as reported by BBC Sport. He is without strikers Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge, as confirmed by Simon Stone of the Press Association via the Daily Mail. Who will need to step up for Roy’s Boys to come away victorious?

Let’s take a look at three pivotal players for the evening.

 

Steven Gerrard

Sure, this may be the most obvious choice, but Steven Gerrard’s role in the England system is changing. While he found room to get forward in the recent 4-0 win against Moldova, he is no longer the endlessly energetic bulldozer of yesteryear.

The English captain is playing more defensively with every match. If he continues to spray the ball effectively, intercept possession and hover around the halfway line, Hodgson’s midfield can usher a measure of control over what will be a frantic central area.

While much has been made of Gerrard’s ability to play alongside Frank Lampard, his relationship with Jack Wilshere has the potential to define England’s performance. If the Liverpool man can get the ball down, slow play and distribute to his more agile colleague, Ukraine’s energy will quickly sap.

 

James Milner

While it’s likely Milner will perform any defensive duties effectively, the former Leeds United youngster needs to make sure he keeps up to speed with England’s attack. He should provide an outlet on the wing by intelligently finding space and delivering accurate balls to the centre.

Milner has a tendency to get bogged down with work in his own half. Hodgson must deploy the 27-year-old with the proviso that he is a key part of the visiting nation’s attacking efforts. With a little freedom, he could excel.

 

Joe Hart

The likes of Paul Robinson, Scott Carson and David James have succumbed to major goalkeeping errors in vital moments for England. Joe Hart hasn’t enjoyed the best start to the 2013/14 Premier League season and should be ready to have his nerves tested alongside his shot-stopping ability.

Hodgson did well to keep faith with Hart during the victory against Moldova. A clean sheet and lack of touches saw him leave Wembley with an added confidence boost, but the Olympic Stadium in Kiev is unlikely to be so kind.

Mikhail Fomenko’s team will look to pressure the keeper right from the off. Hart’s first touches need to be positive, and a couple of early saves would stand him in good stead for the rest of the contest. Ukraine will certainly attack in their own backyard, ensuring the English keeper is likely to be rather busy.

This fixture feels like it could really make or break the current No. 1’s international career, but will the Manchester City keeper show signs of nervousness?

 

Which players do you think need to perform for Roy Hodgson’s side to leave Ukraine with three points? Let me know in the comments section below and be sure to discuss the game with me on Twitter: