How England Will Line Up Against Montenegro
England face a crunch World Cup qualifier when they take on Montenegro this Friday, and as ever, Roy Hodgson's selection will come under the closest of close scrutiny.
We've been here before, of course. For those of us of a certain age, autumn in an odd-numbered year wouldn't be the same without England facing another "must-win" qualifier.
Two wins will ensure England's progress as group winners. They're ahead and in the box seats, but with Ukraine set for an easy task against San Marino in their last match, England have to allow for that by winning both games. Simple as that.
To that end, I predict an attacking approach on Friday with this side:
He may have had his wobbly moments, but Joe Hart has received the backing of Hodgson and will start at Wembley. Cahill, Jagielka and Walker have been Hodgson's preferred three-quarters of a back four, but injury has meant he could doge a potentially tricky choice at left-back.
Ashley Cole misses Montenegro with a rib injury, and it is unclear if he will be back for the Poland finale, but in Everton's Baines, Hodgson can pick an outstanding exponent of the art.
He may have picked him anyway—although I doubt it, Cole is still a world-class performer. However this could be Baines' perfect chance to lay claim to the England left-back slot, and let's hope he gets the chance to give Hodgson a selection headache with a fit-again Cole in Brazil next summer.
In midfield, Lampard's experience will be needed alongside that of skipper Gerrard to begin with. If it's not going so well, Andros Townsend would be an interesting option off the bench even if the Tottenham man is uncapped. He looked good early on in Spurs' shocking defeat to West Ham on Sunday; equally, Ross Barkley could be an impact sub to conjure with.
Jack Wilshere's strength and aggression will go nicely with the older pairing of Lampard and Gerrard, and further ahead I think Hodgson will not try to ensure an England win with a positive selection.
Sturridge simply has to play, and being in a similarly fine vein of form, Rooney's selection is a given. That leaves one place, which I think will go to Danny Welbeck. He divides opinion in some quarters, but the Man United striker has the happy knack of grabbing goals at the international level—many strikers tried out by England would like to have his record of eight goals in 18 appearances. Not great, accepted, but not shabby either, and it should be enough to get the nod.
Overall, I'm hopeful for Friday; Tuesday could be another story, but England should get to their final qualifier on the back of a comfortable win on Friday. That hope is based on a need to see England, and Hodgson, throw off the shackles and go for it. Here's hoping.
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