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Adam Johnson and Roy Hodgson's England Underrated XI

Jack LusbyFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2014

Adam Johnson and Roy Hodgson's England Underrated XI

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    Adam Johnson has made his case for international selection this season with Sunderland.
    Adam Johnson has made his case for international selection this season with Sunderland.Scott Heppell/Associated Press

    This week, the Guardian quoted Sunderland and England winger Adam Johnson delivering a particularly damning verdict on his and his lower-table compatriots’ international chances:

    “I don't think it really matters how well you're playing, it's who you play for…If you look at the last 10 squads: Southampton have been playing well, they're in the top eight‚ and the rest are Everton, Tottenham, Man United, City, clubs like that.”

    Johnson’s suggestion is that Roy Hodgson’s England selection policy is limited by club reputation, which has ostensibly been proven true within recent squads, despite glowing form by some players further down the Premier League table.

    Hodgson’s current pool is essentially defined and unbreachable, with Luke Shaw, Jay Rodriguez and Raheem Sterling the only arguably surprising inclusions in his most recent squad, BBC Sport reported.

    However, with around a quarter of the Premier League season left to go, there may be time yet for some of the figures on the international periphery to force their way into Hodgson’s World Cup reckoning.

    Here is England’s underrated and in-form XI, taken from the Premier League and the Championship.

Goalkeeper: Jack Butland (Leeds United)

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    Jack Butland in action for Stoke City against Liverpool earlier this season.
    Jack Butland in action for Stoke City against Liverpool earlier this season.Jon Super/Associated Press

    Stoke City’s on-loan goalkeeping prospect Butland has featured in and around the England squad in the past.

    It can definitely be argued that the Bristol-born shot-stopper’s move to the Premier League club was short-sighted in terms of his development—particularly given the prolonged form of Stoke current No. 1 Asmir Begovic.

    However, when employed by manager Mark Hughes in place of an injured Begovic earlier this season, Butland duly impressed, not least in the 5-3 loss to Liverpool in January, where he made a string of impressive saves despite the end result.

    A temporary move to Leeds United has, naturally, offered more game time to the 21-year-old. Starting well with a clean sheet away to Middlesborough, Butland has since been unfortunate in shipping 12 goals in four games, as per Squawka.

    With Joe Hart as England’s undisputed No. 1 and either Ben Foster, John Ruddy or the emerging Fraser Forster acting as a capable deputy, the case for including Butland can definitely be made as an experience-gaining measure, as an international squad rarely utilises its full quota of goalkeepers during a tournament.

Right-Back: Jon Flanagan (Liverpool)

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    Liverpool's Jon Flanagan celebrates with team-mate Jordan Henderson.
    Liverpool's Jon Flanagan celebrates with team-mate Jordan Henderson.Associated Press

    Liverpool’s local lad Flanagan has enjoyed a meteoric rise into the first-team reckoning, given his lowly position as an Academy outcast as early as November of last year. He was given his first start for the club since April 2012 in the 2-0 loss away to Arsenal, according to BBC Sport.

    Now a regular feature under Brendan Rodgers, Flanagan can consider himself the most in-form full-back at the club.

    Squawka attributes Flanagan with an average of six defensive actions per game; considering Glen Johnson, his counterpart at club and potentially country, only averages at five, Rodgers could be forgiven for his surprise.

Centre-Back: James Tomkins (West Ham United)

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    James Tomkins has been pivotal to West Ham United's impressive defensive record this season.
    James Tomkins has been pivotal to West Ham United's impressive defensive record this season.Associated Press

    West Ham United youth product Tomkins remains one half of the league’s joint-most successful defensive partnership; as per ESPN FC, the London club are level with fellow capital-city sides Arsenal and Chelsea on 13 clean sheets this season.

    Alongside Welshman James Collins, Tomkins has formed a rock-solid combination. With England’s current centre-back options, namely Phil Jones and Chris Smalling at Manchester United, currently experiencing a turbulent stretch, Tomkins' form is something that Hodgson shouldn’t ignore.

    According to Squawka, Tomkins has a 70-percent success rate in headed duels this season, has won 52 percent of tackles attempted and averages 11 defensive actions per game.

    A solid, adept centre-back who, at 24 years old, has potential to develop on the international stage, Tomkins is unlucky to not have been included so far in Hodgson’s plans.

Centre-Back: Curtis Davies (Hull City)

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    Hull City's Curtis Davies beats Manchester United midfielder Adnan Januzaj to the ball.
    Hull City's Curtis Davies beats Manchester United midfielder Adnan Januzaj to the ball.Jon Super/Associated Press

    Hull City centre-back Davies has been a revelation this season.

    When the squad for the Denmark game was announced at the end of February, Davies attributed his omission as “the nail in the coffin of my chances of going to Brazil,” as per BBC Sport.

    Performing consistently for a supposedly "unfashionable" club, the ex-Villa man would be a perfect addition to Hodgson’s squad.

    Assuming to role of captain at Hull City in the absence of the injured Robert Koren, Davies is a reliable, vocal presence.

    Furthermore, with a Squawka-attributed tackle success rate of 54 percent, a headed duels success rate of 64 percent and an average of 12 defensive actions per game, Davies could fill a certain uncompromising Ferdinand-shaped hole in the England defence.

Left-Back: Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal)

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    Kieran Gibbs and West Ham United's Joe Cole in this season's London derby.
    Kieran Gibbs and West Ham United's Joe Cole in this season's London derby.Sang Tan/Associated Press

    Arsenal’s loyal left-back has been unfortunate to find himself mired among the deserved hype surrounding Southampton’s Luke Shaw and the vitality of veteran England international Ashley Cole.

    When Gibbs has featured this season, Arsenal have kept 10 clean sheets, accounting for over 75 percent of Arsenal's total 13 clean sheets. This shows the significance of the 24-year-old’s contribution.

    A solid defensive option who is also capable of contributing in attacking movements, Gibbs has created 10 chances so far this season from full-back, per Squawka.

    On form, Gibbs is arguably a stronger candidate for the England squad than Cole; however, he remains an unlucky party due to surprising depth in the left-back position.

Centre-Midfield: Fabian Delph (Aston Villa)

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    Fabian Delph in action against Chelsea.
    Fabian Delph in action against Chelsea.Rui Vieira/Associated Press

    Fabian Delph’s masterful performance in Aston Villa’s 1-0 win against Chelsea last weekend, capped by the winning goal, should have opened England manager Roy Hodgson’s eyes to a widening pool of underrated English stars in the build-up to his World Cup squad selection.

    This performance was indicative of the immeasurable growth seen in Delph’s game, particularly this season, during which the central midfielder’s form has sparkled.

    Previously criticised as being rash in the tackle, Delph has curtailed this somewhat this season under the stewardship of Villa manager Paul Lambert.

    Boasting an impressive Squawka statistic of 48 successful take-ons this season, Delph is an energetic and combative central midfielder, now with an added goal-scoring sheen. Perhaps he is a more a favourable option to the vacuous, possession-recycling Hodgson favourite, Tom Cleverley.

Centre-Midfield: James Ward-Prowse (Southampton)

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    James Ward-Prowse battles Arsenal's Mesut Ozil.
    James Ward-Prowse battles Arsenal's Mesut Ozil.Associated Press

    Southampton’s 19-year-old central midfielder may find this World Cup comes too soon for his inclusion.

    However, with the form of the previously mentioned Tom Cleverley—along with that of fellow England midfielders Michael Carrick and James Milner—coming under question of late, it could be argued that the form of James Ward-Prowse deserves international recognition.

    Former England manager Glenn Hoddle, writing for this site, recently advocated the use of this World Cup to give younger players vital experience to formulate a more earnest attempt at international glory in tournaments to come.

    Ward-Prowse possesses a maturity beyond his years, and with Squawka proving him as the second-most accurate passer in the Southampton squad with an 87 percent accuracy, he could prove a valuable option for Hodgson this World Cup.

Centre-Midfield: Tom Huddlestone (Hull City)

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    Hull City's Tom Huddlestone has been one of the club's most impressive performers this term.
    Hull City's Tom Huddlestone has been one of the club's most impressive performers this term.Alastair Grant/Associated Press

    As with Davies, this season Huddlestone has been revitalised at Hull City.

    However, again as with Davies, this situation seems to be working against the 27-year-old midfielder. Capped four times by England already, Huddlestone now finds his options limited possibly due to club reputation, or lack thereof.

    Huddlestone has created—by far—the highest amount of chances in the Hull squad this season with 47, as per Squawka, and would prove a worthy back-up for England captain Steven Gerrard in the regista role.

    With quality and range of passing, along with seasoned technical and physical ability and set-piece prowess, Huddlestone would offer Hodgson a rare composed presence in the centre of midfield.

Right Wing: Nathan Dyer (Swansea City)

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    Nathan Dyer wins possession from Manchester United's left-back Patrice Evra.
    Nathan Dyer wins possession from Manchester United's left-back Patrice Evra.JON SUPER/Associated Press

    Perhaps the most obvious performer who misses out under Johnson’s “top eight” assertion, Swansea City winger Dyer has drifted under the England radar since Hodgson's appointment despite remarkably consistent form.

    As reported by the Daily Mail in August last year, Dyer would be interested in an England call-up based on his club form: “Yes. Obviously it would be lovely if it comes but I don’t think about it. That’s not my priority, my priority is here and keep consistent and get more goals this season.”

    Displaying a refreshing, pragmatic approach to his international chances, Dyer’s form as a pacey, wide option deserves the attention of Hodgson, particularly given recent flavour-of-the-month Andros Townsend’s lack of appearances at Spurs.

Centre-Forward: Andy Carroll (West Ham United)

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    Andy Carroll making a rare appearance for West Ham United this season.
    Andy Carroll making a rare appearance for West Ham United this season.Jon Super/Associated Press

    Infamously the victim of insurmountable expectation following a high-profile move to Liverpool in 2011 and a £15m move to West Ham United over the summer, Andy Carroll’s stock has fallen considerably since his last appearance for England.

    However, as Squawka shows, the Newcastle-born forward offers Hodgson’s England a different option with his 58-percent success rate in headed duels.

    If Carroll can overcome his unfortunate injury problems before the World Cup, Hodgson should consider the lofty striker as a plan B in difficult, physical fixtures.

Left Wing: Adam Johnson (Sunderland)

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    Adam Johnson has been Sunderland's best player this season.
    Adam Johnson has been Sunderland's best player this season.Scott Heppell/Associated Press

    As instigator of this investigation, Johnson himself has impressed thoroughly this season, having made the bold move from giants Manchester City to Sunderland in search of regular game time.

    Johnson is, unsurprisingly, Sunderland’s main man this season and has been one of the only bright spots in a dismal league campaign so far.

    As per Squawka, the 26-year-old is both Sunderland’s top scorer with seven goals and also the club’s most creative player, having created 34 chances.

    Furthermore, Johnson’s damning verdict proves the passion with which the winger plays, an invaluable quality on the international stage.

Best of the Rest

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    Swansea City's Jonjo Shelvey has impressed since making the move to Wales from Liverpool this summer.
    Swansea City's Jonjo Shelvey has impressed since making the move to Wales from Liverpool this summer.Bogdan Maran/Associated Press

    Goalkeepers: Alex McCarthy (Reading), Jason Steele (Middlesborough)

    Defenders: John Stones (Everton), Michael Dawson (Spurs) Steven Taylor (Newcastle), Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton)

    Midfielders: Gareth Barry (Everton), Jake Livermore (Hull City), Jonjo Shelvey (Swansea City), Steve Sidwell (Fulham), Kevin Nolan (West Ham)

    Forwards: Thomas Ince (Crystal Palace), Ravel Morrison (QPR), Nathan Redmond (Norwich City)


    Do you agree with these selections? Which lower-table performers should Roy Hodgson consider for his World Cup squad, if any? Let us know in the comments below.

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