With the World Cup looming, England have just two more friendlies before their first game against Italy on June 14, and having picked what looks pretty close to his first-choice XI for Friday's win over Peru, Roy Hodgson is set to mix things up for the encounter with Ecuador on Wednesday.
Hodgson said, as quoted by The Guardian:
Our plan on Wednesday is basically to start the people who didn't start on Friday. We've got two more matches. Wednesday will be an opportunity for me to start the others and then by Saturday we have all of them having played and ready. Then I’ll have to make a decision over who does play.
It seems a sensible approach, to ensure that as many players as possible have some game time in an England shirt before the real thing starts. Thus it looks likely that, of the 23 men who will travel to Brazil, only Fraser Forster will do so having not started a game.
So which players have the best chance of making an impression on Wednesday? Unfortunately for the back five, they probably stand little chance of forcing their way into the side, unless injuries intervene.
Joe Hart, Glen Johnson, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines are basically the default defence, so unless something unfortunate occurs then the likes of Phil Jones and Luke Shaw will have to settle for back-up roles.
Equally, captain Steven Gerrard won't be displaced, but the subject of his partner in midfield could be up for debate. Of course, it would seem logical that Jordan Henderson would play alongside him, given the pair's success for Liverpool this season, but Hodgson might want a little more creativity in his side than Henderson offers.
Jack Wilshere's participation in the World Cup was in doubt after the injuries that kept him out of Arsenal's final few months of the season, but he offers a different option to the Liverpool duo and could force his way into Hodgson's thinking with a good display against Ecuador.
Of the other midfielders, James Milner will alas always be a safety-first option rather than a starter; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will probably be the first reserve on either flank while the midfield pairing of Gerrard and Frank Lampard is hopefully one to consign to the history books.
More interesting are Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling. Hodgson commented this week, as per Sky Sports, that he didn't want too much expectation to be built up around the younger talents in his squad, but their talent is undeniable and it would be foolish to only see them as fall-back options.
Those two players offer things that no others in the England squad do, with Sterling's extreme pace and Barkley's remarkable poise combined with strength being two exceptional weapons to have, and not just off the bench.
Indeed, while Hodgson may favour the dual attacking talents of Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge, the team would arguably be more balanced with Barkley or Sterling behind one of those two central strikers. The youthful promise showed by both in the Premier League this season would give England a freshness and a threat they otherwise lack.
Hodgson said after the Peru game, as per The Guardian:
There are two more weeks before we play Italy, two more weeks of work to put in, for players to keep their form, improve their form, knock on the door even louder and I’m looking forward to that.
Friday's team may have looked like that of a man who has already chosen his starting team, but Wednesday night is clearly a chance to impress for England's fringe men. It will be interesting to see who takes it.
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