Imagining an England World Cup XI with the Returning Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain suffered knee ligament damage during last week's friendly between England and Ecuador, but according to BBC Sport, England manager Roy Hodgson is optimistic about his chances of making the World Cup.
England came through their final pre-tournament warm-up match against Honduras with a 0-0 stalemate, in which Honduras' physical and reckless tackling stole the limelight.
Hodgson started with a front four of Adam Lallana, Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge on Saturday, but with Oxlade-Chamberlain now looking at a possible starting spot in Brazil, the Three Lions boss may face a selection headache.
Here's how we'd go about England's starting XI for the World Cup, in a 4-2-3-1 formation—be prepared for a few big calls. Let us know your picks in the comments below.
Goalkeeper: Joe Hart
Ben Foster is a fine keeper in his own right and Fraser Forster has plenty of potential, but there's no way anyone could realistically look past Joe Hart as England's No. 1. He's miles ahead in terms of top international and club experience.
Right-Back: Glen Johnson
If only John Stones could have burst onto the scene a year ahead of when he actually did. As it stands, Stones will return to England, having not made the final 23-man squad—but he'll become an England regular yet.
Right-back looks to be England's weakest position throughout their squad in the meantime, with Glen Johnson the only realistic starting option on the right. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones might otherwise be decent alternatives, but not after the seasons they've had.
But Johnson's suspect defensive displays will have earmarked him as a weak link in the side. Honduras' pace caused him trouble on Saturday; expect more to come from the likes of Italy and Uruguay.
Left-Back: Leighton Baines
On the opposite flank, Hodgson has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, to the extent that he had the luxury of leaving England legend Ashley Cole out of the squad entirely.
As much as Luke Shaw is highly rated, it'll be Leighton Baines who gets the nod to start this summer—we don't expect much opposition to that selection. His prowess from set pieces may yet prove crucial.
Centre-Back: Phil Jagielka
The 2014 World Cup will be Phil Jagielka's first as a starting option for England—and, at 31 years of age, likely his last.
Yet Jagielka's experience and defensive nous has set him apart as one of the leading defenders in the Premier League, and he will bring leadership to the England defence this summer.
According to Goal.com, England have never lost a competitive game with Jagielka in the side, with eight wins and three draws—an impressive record he'll want to extend in Brazil.
Centre-Back: Gary Cahill
Much like his central defensive partner, Gary Cahill will be playing in his first major tournament for England.
Yet, as a partnership, Cahill and Jagielka have enjoyed a quite stellar record: According to the Guardian, they have not lost any of the 12 matches in which they have been paired, while their competitive game record as a partnership stands at five wins and a draw—and only one goal conceded.
It helps that both Jagielka and Cahill are both capable of scoring goals, given England's multitude of set-piece options.
Holding Midfielder: Steven Gerrard
His on-field leadership, as well as big-game experience, will be needed on the biggest of stages to guide his young colleagues ahead of him, while his expert free-kick deliveries and long-range passing will be instrumental to England's attacking setup.
Central Midfielder: Jordan Henderson
Alongside Gerrard will be club colleague Jordan Henderson, who provides the energy, running and pressing play that an ageing Gerrard just can't contribute over 90 minutes.
Jack Wilshere offers a creative but volatile outlet, while Frank Lampard will be an important bench option to offer pace, set-piece delivery and composure from the spot, but Henderson should be granted a starting place on the back of a quite stellar season for Liverpool.
Right Forward: Raheem Sterling
That Liverpool have the highest number of representatives in the England World Cup squad is testament to the work of Brendan Rodgers, and that Raheem Sterling has gone from an exciting talent to a strong starting option for England is credit to the player's own development and maturity.
He may have been sent off in the friendly against Ecuador, but Sterling offers an all-roundedness as a winger that no other player in the squad provides, and he's our surefire starter in Brazil—and for many years to come.
Left Forward: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
If Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is deemed fit to start a game in the World Cup, he goes straight into our starting lineup on the left side of an attacking midfield three.
Ross Barkley and Oxlade-Chamberlain offer two genuinely exciting options in the same few positions, but the Arsenal man's top-level experience just shades the raw talent of Barkley for us.
Central Attacking Midfielder: Adam Lallana
Yup—we've left out Wayne Rooney.
Instead, we start Adam Lallana as England's No. 10, adopting a similar role as Philippe Coutinho does for Liverpool: A hardworking yet silky smooth attacking option from the tip of the midfield trio.
The Sterling-Lallana-Oxlade-Chamberlain trio offers goal-scoring ability, creativity, searing pace, dribbling and—most importantly—pressing work from attacking midfield, which will provide an important platform for Daniel Sturridge up front.
James Milner, Ross Barkley, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck are not shabby options to bring off the bench at all.
Striker: Daniel Sturridge
After the season he had for Liverpool, Daniel Sturridge has cemented himself as England's first-choice centre-forward.
He left his shooting boots in the dressing room in the goalless draw against Honduras, but his pace, dribbling and finishing have the potential to make him a star performer in Brazil—if England play to their full potential.
New Liverpool signing Rickie Lambert will be a handy option off the bench, either as a direct replacement for Sturridge as a lone striker, or as an interesting complement to the No. 9.