Hodgson Should Consider Dropping Rooney for the Sake of England's Balance

Nick Miller@NickMiller79Featured ColumnistMay 28, 2014

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 19:  Wayne Rooney of England in action during the international friendly match between England and Germany at Wembley Stadium on November 19, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

One of the strange things about the England World Cup squad announcement was that, one or two fairly minor quibbles aside, the consensus seemed to be that this was about as good a squad as Roy Hodgson could have picked.

There was no hugely controversial selection, like Theo Walcott in 2006, and the only major exclusion, Ashley Cole, had barely played in the second half of the season, so his non-selection was perfectly understandable, even if you didn't agree with it.

So with the squad now selected, attention turns to the most effective starting XI. Prevailing tactics and the example of a team like Liverpool this season suggests the best way to approach the World Cup is with a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 system, providing width both defensively and offensively, as well as options and solidity in midfield.

Alastair Grant/Associated Press

That, of course, makes it a little tricky to fit the two best/highest-profile forwards into the side, but Hodgson seems keen to start with both Daniel Sturridge and Wayne Rooney in Brazil, and he will start this preparation in Friday's friendly against Peru.

Hodgson said on Tuesday, as quoted by the Daily Mail:

We’ve seen an awful lot of the Sturridge-Suarez partnership but not a lot of Rooney-Sturridge because they haven’t had a lot of time to play together. Now’s our chance. 

From this week when we start to move away from a bigger focus on fitness to tactical preparation, that’s when the partnerships will start to develop...

I think it’s too early to start making big bold statements on the Rooney-Sturridge partnership because we haven’t seen enough of it.

It is obviously tempting to do everything possible to get these two players in the side, because they scored 44 goals between them last season, but there is a sense that both of them playing does limit the England side tactically.

Of course it is possible for Rooney and Sturridge to play in a 4-2-3-1, with the Manchester United man dropping deep, but the preference of both is to be a central striker, so the fear is that fitting the two into the same side will result in them competing for space.

Scott Heppell/Associated Press

Hodgson must be tempted to try something similar to Liverpool's approach this season, with Raheem Sterling starting from the right, Adam Lallana on the left and Ross Barkley in the middle, with all three encouraged to interchange and attack at pace. He already knows that in Jordan Henderson and Steven Gerrard he has a ready-made and solid deeper midfield two which can anchor the side, with the added security of better defenders behind them.

Either Rooney or Sturridge could perform the central striker's role, but on balance the Liverpool man must hold the edge, for no other reason than if Rooney has one of the steepling dips in form that punctuate his career, he is a passenger, as he showed at the last World Cup. In a tournament where such fine margins can decide a team's fate, it would represent a gamble and something of a leap of faith to assume that Rooney will be on his game.

Hodgson might as well try the Rooney-Sturridge partnership against Peru, and going on past experience and selection it would represent something of a surprise if he didn't select Rooney to start the tournament. However, for the sake of the balance of the England side, he should consider leaving the Manchester United forward out.