England will play their second World Cup warm-up match on Wednesday evening, facing Ecuador in Miami, where manager Roy Hodgson is expected to switch his side around considerably from the previous fixture against Peru.
Raheem Sterling and Rickie Lambert will start for England in their friendly against Ecuador on Wednesday.— This Is Anfield (@thisisanfield) June 2, 2014
Though not necessarily expected to be in the starting XI for the opening game of the World Cup, Sterling has the capacity to influence his nation's game to the extent that he becomes the side's most important player and central to any success they might have in escaping a tough group and moving through the knockout stages.
Why might he be a substitute if he has the capacity to be the most important player?
Simply put, Hodgson has guided England to the World Cup without Sterling playing a part and others such as Danny Welbeck impressing in that time from the starting wide forward positions.
True, Welbeck hasn't had an awful lot of game time at the club level and has yet to impress close to the World Cup, but it's a safe bet that Hodgson might go with his tried-and-trusted starters.
In fairness, that doesn't have to be a bad thing, as long as the flexibility remains to make changes afterward.
Welbeck has a good scoring record at international level, provides pace and directness in cutting in off the flank, and—in theory at least—should be capable of linking well with club team-mate Wayne Rooney—though that's another discussion entirely.
Come the game against Italy, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Sterling named amongst England's subs.
Once on the pitch, Sterling brings perhaps the best acceleration in the squad, great close control, the ability to beat a man and an ever-improving contribution in the final third.
His second half of the season with Liverpool was phenomenal. Sterling's confidence was sky-high, he was scoring and creating chances every game, and his prodigious workrate was also a massive factor in his regular place in the side.
What's more, he was developed from a winger into a completely versatile attacker—playing on both flanks but also from an attacking central position, helping win possession in the middle before exploiting space behind the opposition midfield in an instant.
Sterling has also played up front, though is unlikely to fill this role for England at present. It does remain an option, however.
Should Roy Hodgson decide to pair Daniel Sturridge and Rooney in a genuine two up top, he would have the perfect opportunity to recreate the diamond midfield from Liverpool in which Sterling excelled.
Sterling at the tip, Jordan Henderson to the right and Steven Gerrard at the base—a ready-made tactical system for England to which the boss merely needs to add a left-sided central midfield player.
That, naturally enough, also allows in-game switches to a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, which England have used so far.
England fans might remember the impact another young Liverpool attacker had at a World Cup: Michael Owen in 1998.
Owen only came on as sub in the first two games, but his impact was so great in his few minutes of game time—and the nation needed a win in the final match—that he was put into the starting XI for the last group game and, in turn, for the round-of-16 knockout match.
Looking back at Sterling, he is perhaps better known in England right now because he has had one more season in the squad at Liverpool than Owen had managed at the time, but outside of the Premier League, many fans will not have seen much of the Jamaican-born youngster.
He has not yet played in the Champions League, featured only briefly in the Europa League and has but two international caps to his name to date.
Owen scored twice in that World Cup in '98, netted a penalty in the shootout against Argentina and generally announced himself to the world at large with explosive performances.
Sterling can do the same for the country this time around.
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