B/R Experts Pick Their England Starting XIs to Face Italy in World Cup Opener

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistApril 2, 2014

B/R Experts Pick Their England Starting XIs to Face Italy in World Cup Opener

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    England are 70 days away from their 2014 FIFA World Cup opening match against Italy, where Roy Hodgson and his men begin their quest to go as far as they can on the biggest international stage of all.

    The subject of who should even make England's final squad of 23 for the tournament is one of much debate, though much of that could be of the supporting cast, with several of the starters seemingly nailed on—barring late injuries or catastrophic losses of form, of course.

    But who should be the 11 given the task of overcoming Italy?

    Bleacher Report's squadron of World Football experts had their say...

Michael Cummings: Wilshere to Start...if Fit

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    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    Starting XI: (4-2-3-1) Hart; Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines; Gerrard, Wilshere; Sterling, Rooney, Lallana; Sturridge.


    Mike kicks us off with a solid-looking side incorporating many of the league's form players. Sterling and Lallana get the nod to support the forwards, with a Gerrard-Wilshere central midfield combination being the focus of his attentions.


    This could be Gerrard's international swan-song. England supporters will be hoping he can bring some of Liverpool's magic with him. As for Wilshere...well, he'll have to be fit, of course.

    With Ashley Cole not playing for Chelsea, I'd like to see Luke Shaw head to Brazil as Baines' understudy.

    He's ready and deserves the spot.

Alex Dimond: Go for Pace with Welbeck and Ox

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    Starting XI: (4-2-3-1) Hart; Johnson, Jagielka, Cahill, Baines; Gerrard, Henderson; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rooney, Welbeck; Sturridge.


    Alex Dimond has gone for plenty of support in attack, with Daniel Sturridge as the main striker. A two-man midfield is a contentious point for some, though it allows Rooney to play between the lines and utilise his creativity and vision to its fullest extent.


    Eight starters pretty much start themselves—the back five, Rooney, Sturridge and Gerrard.

    Gerrard's midfield partner is the big problem area—Henderson is not an ideal option but his familiarity with Gerrard's playing style, defensive commitment and ability to cover a lot of ground gives him my nod over the likes of Michael Carrick or Jack Wilshere.

    Welbeck hasn't let the national side down when playing from the left, while Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right not only gives great pace but also allows England to revert to a 4-3-3 if needed.

Alex Livie: Ashley Cole Should Stay in the Side

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    Starting XI: (4-3-3) Hart; Walker, Cahill, Jagielka, Cole; Gerrard, Barkley, Henderson; Milner, Rooney, Sturridge.


    Alex Livie opts for a mix of exciting youth and reliable experience in his team, including Ashley Cole at left-back. A 4-3-3 system has room for alteration given the versatility of the starters, with one name in particular sure to be a debating point.


    There’s some debate about the full-back berths, but I'm going for Walker over Johnson and Cole over Baines. Walker gets the nod for his dynamism, while Cole earns a place due to his greater big-game experience.

    The midfield is again an area of contention.

    Milner could be viewed as a surprise selection but he can provide cover for Walker on the right—which Hodgson may view as vital in an opening game he will not want to lose.

Karl Matchett: Power and Energy in Midfield with Henderson and Barkley

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    Starting XI: (4-3-3) Hart; Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines; Gerrard, Barkley, Henderson; Sturridge, Rooney, Sterling.


    Glen Johnson gets the nod at right-back, while pace and movement is key in attack. Against Italy in particular, though, England must be aggressive in getting forward when possible—and that's why the central duo are chosen ahead of the likes of Carrick or Wilshere.


    A 4-3-3 has to be the ideal formation for the midfield, allowing Gerrard to dictate play from deep and cover the defence—but he needs aggressive, energetic players ahead of him to thrive.

    Barkley and Henderson can provide that—as well as having the pace and attacking emphasis to drive England up the pitch at pace in possession.

    Sturridge can start from either flank but be asked to attack central, making the most of the space Rooney will inevitably leave as he roams around the front line creating chances.

Jerrad Peters: Lallana Has to Start on the Left

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    Starting XI: (4-2-3-1) Hart; Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines; Gerrard, Wilshere; Sterling, Rooney, Lallana; Sturridge.


    Jerrad opts for a two-man midfield, again going with Rooney as the No. 10 and Sturridge centrally. His big decision comes in the form of Southampton man Adam Lallana, starting from the left.


    It wouldn't take much for me to insert Jordan Henderson in place of Jack Wilshere alongside Steven Gerrard.

    I picked Johnson at right-back as I feel he's slightly better than the rest of a pretty poor bunch, and no question that Adam Lallana should be playing from the get-go against Italy.

Ian Rodgers: Pair Sturridge and Rooney Centrally Up Front

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    Starting XI: (4-4-2) Hart; Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gerrard, Lallana, Sterling; Rooney, Sturridge.


    Ian's plan is clear: pair the best two forwards in the country in attack, look to support them and provide them with chances.


    Roy Hodgson is a cautious man and the opening game of the World Cup finals will set the tone for his tournament.

    Steady at the back with the tried and trusted team members, Steven Gerrard is destined to be included in the starting XI with Adam Lallana a surprise choice after finding form at the right time for Southampton.

    Similarly, Raheem Sterling has been loving life with Liverpool this season and should take a wide berth to give a potentially slow-starting Italy plenty of problems with his lightning pace.

Will Tidey: Rooney Up Top, Sturridge Drifting Behind

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    Starting XI: (4-2-3-1) Hart; Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines; Gerrard, Wilshere; Sterling, Sturridge, Lallana; Rooney.


    Will opts for the same XI as Jerrad, but with a noticeable difference in attack. Wayne Rooney, who has led the line for United from a No. 9 position of late, does the same for England, with Sturridge in behind.


    Playing Sturridge in the No. 10 role isn't as out-there as it might seem—he operates in a drifting, roving capacity for Liverpool anyway, interchanging positions and dropping deep as needed to create space and get on the ball.

    Here, he'd do the same with Rooney for England.

    Lallana and Sterling are the most in-form wide players at England's disposal, and they should start.

Sam Tighe: Sterling in for Width in Attack

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    Starting XI: (4-3-3) Hart; Walker, Jagielka, Cahill, Baines; Gerrard, Henderson, Barkley; Sturridge, Rooney, Sterling.


    Sam opts for a 4-3-3 system similar to Karl's, with the emphasis on energy and pace in attack. There is a notable difference at right-back and Rooney also gets the nod at the No. 9 position.


    Glen Johnson's recent strong form makes right-back a tough choice, but he hasn't usurped Kyle Walker yet for me.

    The midfield three of Gerrard, Barkley and Henderson will provide remarkable energy against an older Italy side in the heat, and despite Lallana's good form for Southampton, I wouldn't enter any game without genuine width on at least one side.

    Sterling, therefore, gets the nod to hold the formation.

Lee Walker: All-Liverpool Midfield Is Best Option

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    Kirsty Wigglesworth

    Starting XI: (4-2-3-1) Hart; Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines; Gerrard, Henderson; Lallana, Rooney, Sterling; Sturridge.


    Lee opts for an attack-minded system to provide chances for Sturridge, spearheading the attack. It's a selection heavily influenced by current Premier League leaders Liverpool.


    I think England have a real problem in central midfield with a lack of defensive shields. It is a toss up between Jordan Henderson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and both are better as part of a three.

    Daniel Sturridge is wasted wide so Wayne Rooney needs to be employed in a deeper role with form horses Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling given licence to roam and express themselves.