Roy Hodgson announces his provisional England squad for the World Cup at the start of next week, and he certainly has some very big decisions to make.
I feel strongly that he needs to opt for youth wherever possible. If Hodgson does not think that his side can keep the ball well in games—which I personally don’t think they will be able to—then he needs to select a young team so they can make up for that deficiency with their energy and running.
England are not the best at retaining the ball, and if you don’t do that well then you need a youthful team that is able to cover as much ground as possible, in order to both prevent the other team picking you apart and then enable you to create chances on the counter.
So I would be very careful, especially considering the hot and humid conditions we are likely to see in Brazil, about picking older players that struggle with that task.
England have a good spine of players who have the requisite experience anyway, with Joe Hart in goal, Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka in defence and Steven Gerrard anchoring things from midfield. They are all players who have been there for a number of years and can provide that leadership example required so, of the other older players available to Hodgson, I would probably only take Ashley Cole on top of that.
Luke Shaw is a terrific prospect but, when it comes down to a last-16 match or a quarter-final and Leighton Baines is unavailable due to injury or suspension, you have to ask the question; would you want Cole or Shaw coming in at left-back?
The way Cole has played in the last few weeks for Chelsea, playing so well having been sidelined for so long, I would want him for a big game.
If Cole hadn’t played at all in the last months it would be a tricky decision because you wouldn’t know the condition he is in and how he would cope. However, to come back and play as he did against Atletico Madrid, or against Liverpool at Anfield, was outstanding. He showed he is still capable of doing what he did for the last 10 years, so I would definitely take him.
Further forward, I think Ross Barkley has to be an absolute certainty—not just to make the squad, but to start games, too.
The way he has played this season has shown he is one of the brightest prospects not just in England but in Europe. The same can be said for Raheem Sterling.
If you look at other countries, many would give a lot to be able to call on two players of such potential. Germany, for example, do not have a player like Ross Barkley at the moment, and I think it would be a travesty if he doesn’t go with the England squad. I love watching him, he reminds me of Michael Ballack—he has that arrogance about him, he’s two-footed and he’s exceptionally talented.
Sterling is too—what these guys have done in the Premier League at their age is absolutely tremendous. Shaw fits into that category, too, and he certainly has a great future, but I still think he is just a little bit behind the other two.
Barkley is already at a great level and so I think he should start, because if they do play with one up top then I think he is made for the position just behind the front man. For me it's a no-brainer.
In midfield, I’d probably pair Jordan Henderson with Steven Gerrard. They’ve played together for most of the season; Stevie plays the deeper role and he needs someone who will run off him and Henderson is well-equipped to do that.
People talk about the importance of experience but ultimately you need to pick the best players at that moment in time. More importantly, you need players who can cover the ground. I would not take Frank Lampard for that very reason. I also wonder what needs to happen for Lampard to actually play. You wouldn’t play Lampard and Gerrard together, because they didn’t play well together when they were at their peaks never mind now, so what needs to happen in terms of injuries and suspensions for Lampard to get on the pitch?
If he's not realistically going to make an impact in matches then his space is better off going to a player who might, therefore I wouldn’t pick him.
The same could be said for Michael Carrick, although perhaps you need him as cover just in case something happens to Gerrard. But the Liverpool captain is so integral to the team that is an almost unthinkable turn of events.
As of now, I would play Gerrard and Henderson in the middle, with Sterling, Barkley and Adam Lallana further forward. Then it becomes a straight decision between Daniel Sturridge and Wayne Rooney as the lead striker.
The way it is now, I think you have to make the case that Sturridge’s pace is a better option, as he’s better equipped to stretch teams. At the moment I would go for him over Rooney, especially considering the great season he has had for Liverpool.
Of course, the media is going to jump on it if Rooney is "dropped," which might make Hodgson nervous about making such a big decision. If he ultimately picks Rooney ahead of Sturridge then so be it, but we know how vital pace is in the modern game and Sturridge has had a fantastic campaign.
What I don’t want to see is Hodgson picking one as the main striker and then playing the other out wide, because we have better options in the squad for that other role. It’s not like in the past, when England struggled to find options for the left wing and had to improvise, now they have genuine quality wide players to choose from.
Putting a centre-forward there would be foolish, because they will never do the job as well as Lallana or Sterling would.
You have to pick the best team in their best positions, not the players you think should play—or the press wants to play.