As the World Cup nears and England's preparations for the tournament continue with two friendlies in Miami this week, attention is now very much on who Roy Hodgson will select in his starting XI.
Much of the debate now centres on the involvement of Wayne Rooney.
Hodgson will—according to numerous reports Wednesday, such as one per The Guardian—start against Ecuador on the left side of England's attack, a role which the Manchester United forward isn't comfortable in.
Arguably, Rooney is the biggest problem facing Hodgson as he takes his squad to Brazil. He's a star player who is out of form, lacking fitness and has failed to perform at the last two World Cups due to similar issues.
But would Hodgson drop Rooney altogether? It seems unlikely.
Therefore, the England boss should find a way to accommodate Rooney alongside Daniel Sturridge—and that means building the team around Liverpool's prodigious teenager Raheem Sterling.
The 19-year-old replaced Rooney for the final 25 minutes of the 3-0 friendly win over Peru on Friday night and immediately impressed.
However, again according to reports such as The Guardian's, Sterling will not start against Ecuador.
Is Hodgson waiting until the final warm-up game against Honduras on Saturday to start Sterling and play his preferred XI, or does Sterling not fit into his starting plans?
Form and Fitness
Sterling is the type of player that Rooney has failed to develop into. For Rooney in 2004, see Sterling 2014.
Rooney was impressive at Euro 2004—arguably his best tournament for his country—scoring four goals.
How England embraced the then-teenager 10 years ago is how Hodgson and England should be embracing Sterling now.
The Liverpool attacker has been in sensational form in 2014 and has benefited from not being in the team prior to December—something which could hugely benefit him at a World Cup. Sterling is, comparably to many others in the squad, fresh and ready.
Similarly, he has not been playing in European competition this season. He's fully fit and certainly on form. Indeed, it's quite bizarre that there isn't more hype surrounding the Jamaican-born winger.
What has also been most impressive about Sterling in the latter months of the 2013/14 season is the way in which he has performed in numerous roles.
When Brendan Rodgers opted to start him at the point of his diamond midfield at Old Trafford in March, it was a huge testament to the manager and the player. Such faith in the player was justified and rewarded with an outstanding display. Sterling closed off the space for Michael Carrick, and Liverpool dominated the midfield subsequently.
Speaking after that match, Rodgers explained, as per the Liverpool Echo:
When he starts in the centre he offers us penetration with his speed. For our first goal against United he played a really important part as he took the ball out of pressure, around Marouane Fellaini and then switched play to Jordan Henderson.
For the second goal, he made a great penetrating run in behind from Glen Johnson’s pass.
Raheem is intricate in tight spaces. We encourage players to play under pressure with players tight on them, and he can play with bodies around him.
He’s maturing very well. We've seen we have options with him because of his tactical intelligence.
The Guardian's Barney Ronay discussed Sterling in the No. 10 role after his performance against Manchester City in April. He noted Sterling's, "high-energy probing presence, always moving, always playing with his head up, with an ability to beat his man on both sides, to pass or shoot with both feet, and the same easy gliding acceleration from first minute to last."
When people discuss how England might stop Italy's Andrea Pirlo controlling the opening match, it's staggering that Sterling isn't the name that immediately springs to mind. It shouldn't even be a discussion.
Sterling certainly has the fitness and ability to do so, plus tactical awareness. He's a player who has no fear, has no injury doubts, is in form and hasn't had a season plagued by injury or being overplayed.
As Rodgers says of Sterling, per The Guardian, "his best games have been against the best teams." Thus, there would be no better stage for Sterling than against Italy in the World Cup.
Would you start Sterling against Italy?
If Hodgson will not drop Rooney, then the solution is not difficult: play Rooney alongside Sturridge and have Sterling in the "No. 10" role at the point of a midfield diamond.
Steven Gerrard continues as the holding midfielder/deep-lying playmaker, Jordan Henderson plays the same role as he does for his club—protecting his captain by pressing the play ahead of him—while Adam Lallana and Jack Wilshere battle it out for the role on the other side of the diamond to add further creative spark.
Sterling is a supremely talented player who England should be building their team around.