With just over 70 days to go until the start of England's 2014 FIFA World Cup campaign, plenty of talk surrounds those who may make Roy Hodgson's final cut of 23 players to represent the nation in Brazil.
Of particular interest are the attacking options at the disposal of Hodgson, with three Southampton players impressing so much over the past 18 months or so that Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert are all seen as having a great chance of making the cut—despite having no caps between them just five months ago.
While Lallana will be aiming for one of the attacking midfield slots, the other two are predominantly aiming for a forward role, quite potentially against West Ham United's Andy Carroll, the main alternative to Lambert.
It looks like it might be between Andy Carroll, and Rickie Lambert for a place in the World Cup. Who would you take and why? Use #SST— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) April 1, 2014
This was first raised by Sam Allardyce back in August last year, as per BBC Sport, while the Daily Echo's Simon Walter also reported the battle between the two was likely to run until the end of the season.
4 or 5 Forwards?
The simplistic way of looking at the squad is to have three keepers, eight defenders, seven or eight midfielders and four or five forwards, depending on the systems used, but this can vary significantly, of course.
If Hodgson is looking at 4-3-3 being the predominant system, there may be six "attackers" in the squad, comprising both central strikers and wider threats such as Raheem Sterling.
What is certain is that, barring injury, Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck are likely to be on the plane, leaving at best only one striker position to fill. The obvious battle is to be between Lambert and Carroll, as taller, more powerful No. 9s for England to call upon when required.
That doesn't preclude Rodriguez from selection; he has spent most of the season playing from a left-sided attacking role, filling in centrally when needed too, so he could actually go as an alternate bench option to both Lambert and Lallana, at least in theory. Rodriguez may also be in battle with Welbeck as an option from that side.
Lambert vs. Carroll
It's perhaps a little strange to see these two in direct battle for a place, given that they are different kinds of forwards entirely. But as the more direct option, as six-yard box presences in the air and, as mentioned, very powerful strikers, it could be one against the other.
Lambert prefers to drop off outside the penalty area, involve himself in link-up play and attack from deep, often looking for cut-backs rather than running onto the ball full tilt.
Carroll largely stays on the shoulders of the centre-backs and does not have the presence of mind or the intelligence in his off-the-ball movement that the Saints forward has. But, he is extremely adept in finding on-rushing team-mates from the second line of attack, has good control at times—dreadfully inconsistent technique at others—and attacks the ball strongly in the air.
Unfortunately for the West Ham man, he has also spent a large part of the season injured and is only now showing his fitness and form, whereas Lambert has been impressing for a longer period.
It's clear from the above statistical tables that neither Carroll nor Lambert are likely to be used as technical, regular goalscoring options from the start. That burden will fall to Rooney and Sturridge, and these two are aiming for the impact role from the bench.
Lambert simply brings more to the table than Carroll is able to at this point; not just in his link-up play, but his work ethic, movement and one-touch ability to pass the ball on.
The impression is given, from watching Lambert, that he is more likely than Carroll to assess the situation clearly in the split second he may have in the penalty box and pick a pass for a team-mate to have a clearer shot on goal, rather than the hammer-at-all-costs route that Carroll tends to go for.
Who should make the plane?
On the other hand, Carroll is far more productive and bruising in the air than Lambert.
Ultimately, it might be that Roy Hodgson decides that if either man is to be called upon, it's likely to be late on when England will simply throw whatever they can into the opponent's area. In that case, the manager may opt for the regular battering ram rather than the solid, yet deft approach that Lambert offers.
England fans will hope that goals play a part in the manager's thinking, too, and at present it's Lambert who again comes out on top at international level, with his two goals in four a better rate than Carroll's two in nine can offer.