Shaw, Sterling Inclusions Are Deserved, but England Template Was Set vs. Poland

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Shaw, Sterling Inclusions Are Deserved, but England Template Was Set vs. Poland
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

As Roy Hodgson admitted upon revealing his England squad to face Denmark next week, Southampton left-back Luke Shaw was never going to be kept off the 30-man list.

“Anyone who has watched him play would not deny he deserves a place,” remarked the Three Lions boss, per the BBC.

He might have used an identical reply if asked about Cardiff City defender Steven Caulker, Liverpool attacker Raheem Sterling and Saints forward Jay Rodriguez, each of whom will join Shaw in the England setup despite only a single senior cap apiece.

Not that any of them should have been left with their clubs while their country contested one of four matches that will serve as its World Cup preparation schedule.

Quite the contrary.

Michael Regan/Getty Images
Raheem Sterling is in a hot run of form for Liverpool at the moment.

All four were called up because their play merited inclusion, and if Hodgson’s starting lineup to face the Danes is to be picked solely on recent form the entire quartet should be playing from the start at Wembley on Wednesday.

But that’s not how international football works, and if Hodgson acknowledges the template of his team is already set he’ll have that much more of a leg up on his opposition in Brazil during the summer.

Teams that go into major tournaments with a mostly predetermined starting XI give themselves a head start, and as far as England are concerned the victories against Montenegro and Poland that ensured their participation in the World Cup did much to get that process underway.

The upcoming set of friendlies should be used merely to tweak what worked against their Group H rivals rather than to experiment.

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
England celebrate a goal against Poland in October.

In other words, Shaw, Caulker, Sterling and Rodriguez should be handed cameo appearances at the most, and at this point—with their Manaus encounter with Italy less than four months away—simply being in the setup and around some seasoned internationals might have to be enough for the four of them.

Kyle Walker’s availability means he should reclaim the right-back spot he earned ahead of the Montenegro match, and Gary Cahill and Leighton Baines should play from the start as well.

Their places are set in stone, and they should be given every chance to play as many minutes together as possible ahead of the flight to Brazil.

The injury to Phil Jagielka, as reported by BBC Sport, means there could be some action for Caulker or perhaps Chris Smalling.

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Steven Gerrard is part of an outfield six that should be well near set in stone.

Beyond the defense, all six outfielders who started against Poland are fit and available for Wednesday, and all six should be handed another opportunity to forge understandings with one another.

In fact, the outfield six starting against the Poles was only one player different from the six that faced Montenegro, with Frank Lampard and Michael Carrick exchanging starting roles alongside Steven Gerrard.

Even Danny Welbeck, whose club form for Manchester United has been abysmal of late, should start with Wayne Rooney and Andros Townsend in an attacking trio behind Daniel Sturridge. A Sterling or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could perhaps replace him at some point, but nothing from Welbeck's most recent international performances suggests he should be dropped.

This is hardly the time for tinkering.

England’s youngsters will get their chances during the upcoming Euro 2016 qualifiers, with an eye to landing starting places for the competition in France.

The 2014 World Cup is not their tournament.

And while they’ll accompany the team as qualified understudies and providers of depth, their introductions so close to the big event would only be detrimental to the squad as a whole.

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