England manager Roy Hodgson wasn't in attendance for Liverpool's FA Cup defeat to Arsenal on Sunday afternoon. Instead, he was in Miami visiting the training facilities his squad will use in their pre-World Cup training camp.
From there, he'll travel to Brazil to visit the stadium in Manaus in which England will face Italy this summer.
One player who is pushing himself into the forefront of the manager's plans to not only be in the squad but also the starting XI for that game is Liverpool's Raheem Sterling. The teenager was again in superb form during the narrow defeat at The Emirates.
Sterling started on the left of Brendan Rodgers' attack—a position he impressed in eight days prior as Liverpool hammered Arsenal 5-1 at Anfield with Sterling scoring twice. Rodgers later moved the youngster, showing the trust he has in him, to right-back when Jordan Henderson was introduced for Aly Cissokho.
Still amazed at how good sterling was earlier! Thought he was flying, then moved to right back and amazed even further.— The Kop End (@TheTwelfthMan) February 16, 2014
Jack Pitt-Brooke writes in The Independent:
Sterling moved onto the right in the second half and played the last half-hour as a relentless right-back, covering the whole flank with the athleticism and enthusiasm of two men. He continued to stretch Arsenal while putting in covering tackles near his own goal, not allowing substitute Kieran Gibbs past him.
According to The Telegraph's Henry Winter, Hodgson is "increasingly convinced that the Liverpool winger has the ability to replace the injured Theo Walcott."
The Arsenal winger suffered a knee injury last month that has sidelined him for six months, ruling him out of the World Cup and opening up a huge opportunity for somebody to replace him on the right of England's attack.
Hodgson plays a similar formation to that of both Arsenal and Liverpool with a variation of a 4-3-3 / 4-2-3-1. Walcott would line up on the right of the three forwards, just as Sterling has in recent weeks for Liverpool.
However, there is no reason why two of those players who impressed on Sunday couldn't solve the wide areas for Hodgson—Sterling and Oxlade-Chamberlain are both capable of playing on either side of the attack and offer superb pace, energy and dribbling technique.
If the World Cup was now you'd want Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Raheem Sterling as wide men in England's squad. Need to be bold in Brazil.— Paul Hayward (@_PaulHayward) February 17, 2014
Sterling, according to the statistical analysis website WhoScored, is the most in-form teenager in Europe right now.
The 19-year-old has five goals and two assists this season; remember that he made only his second Premier League start of the season in December.
Sterling's current form sees him make more dribbles per game than any Liverpool player bar Luis Suarez.
Such is his ability with the ball that Sterling has also won the most penalties (3) in England’s top tier this term, highlighting how he’s able to draw fouls in dangerous positions for the benefit of the team. His average rating of 7.31 emphasises how key he has been in the Reds’ pursuit of a return to the Champions League.
Sterling has clearly benefited from the time he spent out of the Liverpool side, something he admitted recently in an interview with The Telegraph's Chris Bascombe.
Since December, his form has been incredible, and he's shown tremendous improvements to his game. Previously, his final delivery lacked an end product, but now, he is regularly providing and creating chances for Suarez and Daniel Sturridge around him—or, he is luring the defender in to give away a foul.
His pace now has more of an impact due to his desire to drive at defenders, rather than playing a safe pass inside, committing the defenders instead of becoming passive.
His stamina has improved, and his physicality is superb—difficult to knock off the ball and strong in defensive duties, something the youngster isn't afraid to shirk, as evidenced again against Arsenal.
The fact Rodgers has the trust in Sterling to play him as a full-back in such a big game is a huge compliment to the player. Last week, he said the youngster was “one of the most tactically-gifted players I’ve worked with," as per Mike Whalley of ESPN FC.
Rodgers was speaking after a pundit had suggested that the World Cup may be too soon for Sterling, something the Liverpool manager emphatically refuted:
I’ve a great respect for Tony Gale. He was a wonderful player and he’s an excellent panellist when I listen to him.
But I heard him talk about Raheem Sterling and saying it might be too early in his career for him to go to a World Cup, because he’s only got pace.
Well, I tell you what. I see this boy every single day of my life. I see his technique. He’s one of the most tactically-gifted players I’ve worked with.
His technique’s wonderful. There was one piece of great skill he produced against Arsenal at the weekend. So there’s more to him than pace.
Too true, Brendan.
Discussing Sterling recently, via Sporting Life, Hodgson said:
"He is doing it for a top team and that puts a lot of pressure on everybody else because if you can do it at the top of the table with Liverpool then you can do it in an England shirt as well."
Sterling should be nailed on for a place in the squad, and his versatility of being able to play equally on either side of the attack mean he should be a firm favourite to start England's opening match of the tournament.