Does Hodgson See Raheem Sterling as an Impact Sub for England at the World Cup?

Nick MillerFeatured ColumnistMay 31, 2014

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As we know from years of experience, one should not read a huge amount into pre-tournament friendlies. They are historically games in which the England manager tends to experiment ahead of the matches that really matter.

The standard of opposition is generally lower, because in most circumstances the teams faced in these friendlies haven't qualified for the tournament England are about to play in, so little can be taken from any success in these games.

So it was for England against Peru on Friday night, as Roy Hodgson's men eased to a 3-0 victory without too many alarming moments. Daniel Sturridge bagged the sort of goal that England fans everywhere have been hoping he can score for the national team, and the whole starting XI generally put in solid if unspectacular displays.

Hodgson was certainly happy with how things went, including with the standard of opposition, quoted by the Guardian as saying:

Peru gave me exactly the type of test I wanted. Many games in Brazil, if we do well, will be of this nature. Teams are good these days at getting players behind the ball, making certain it’s hard to break through and find a clear way through, and they can hit you on the counter. So this was fine preparation.

While few conclusions could be drawn from a game like this, Hodgson's team at Wembley may have given us a hint as to how he will approach England's encounters in the tournament.

It looked largely like the team that most would expect to start against Italy on June 14, with a back five that basically picks itself, Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson reprising their Liverpool partnership in midfield and Sturridge and Wayne Rooney up front.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 30:  Roy Hodgson, Manager of England on the touchline during the international friendly match between England and Peru at Wembley Stadium on May 30, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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One slightly surprising selection was the omission of Raheem Sterling. The Liverpool winger was superb in his side's thrilling but ultimately doomed title challenge, so it was assumed that he would be in the England side from the off in Brazil.

However, could this game offer a hint that Hodgson wants to, initially at least, play it a little safer?

Hodgson is an instinctively cautious manager, and while he can and occasionally does take risks, he generally shies away from them. Therefore, with Adam Lallana and Danny Welbeck nominally taking up roles on the flanks, it's possible that Hodgson sees the best way of setting his side up to counter the threats of Uruguay and Italy is to establish some solidity in his side.

Sterling is not exactly a flighty, irresponsible winger who never tracks back, but Welbeck and Lallana certainly offer a little more positional discipline, and while they were both theoretically wingers, it is the instinct of both to drift inside, thus making England narrower and perhaps more compact.

This approach clearly has its flaws because it potentially exposes full-backs Leighton Baines and Glen Johnson, over whom there have been defensive question marks in the past. Indeed, the system may also be designed to give those full-backs more space to run into; while neither is the greatest defensively, they both offer plenty going forward, and they could be the men Hodgson is relying on to provide attacking width.

Leaving out Sterling would represent something of a risk in as much as leaving out such an exciting attacking talent always does, but it's possible that Hodgson sees the Liverpool man as more of an impact sub than a starter in Brazil.