International Football

What Danny Welbeck's Injury Scare Could Mean for England at the World Cup

England's Raheem Sterling, left, and Danny Welbeck, right, do drills during a soccer training session, Friday, June 6, 2014, in Miami Shores, Fla. England plays Honduras in a friendly Saturday as a warm-up for the World Cup in Brazil. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press
Nick MillerFeatured ColumnistJune 11, 2014

Many of the most influential discoveries in human history have been made by accident. Penicillin, microwave ovens, x-rays, pacemakers: None of them were the result that their inventors set out for, but all proved more useful than the initial intention.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JUNE 10:  Manager Roy Hodgson talks to the media in an England press conference at the Urca Military Base on June 10, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

England's starting XI for their World Cup opener against Italy on Saturday might not be quite as important as advances in medical science (although this is the World Cup, and there are few things more important than that), but it might turn out to benefit from the same theory.

It seemed, from the line-ups that Roy Hodgson selected in the pre-tournament friendlies, that Danny Welbeck was almost certain to start on one of the flanks, with Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling battling it out for the other wide position.

Sterling's case was harmed by the red card for chopping Antonio Valencia in half during the match against Ecuador, thus excluding him from the final warm-up versus Honduras, meaning that the Southampton man was the favourite to take his place in Manaus.

However, Welbeck's injury scare might mean Hodgson is forced to abandon his plans, and instead pick both Sterling and Lallana on the wings to face Italy. Welbeck picked up a thigh problem in training on Tuesday, putting his participation on Saturday in doubt, and at the time of writing, the England camp are assessing the seriousness of the injury, as reported by the BBC.

Welbeck is a fine player and certainly a useful man to have around for England, but for the needs of Saturday's encounter, Sterling could be a more appropriate pick. Against the strongest team in their group, England's best approach will be to play on the counter-attack, relying on solid central defence and midfield pairings and looking to hit Italy on the break, and Sterling's exciting pace will undoubtedly be a more effective weapon in that setup than Welbeck.

The Manchester United man is not exactly slow, but he is no match for Sterling when the younger man really puts on the afterburners.

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JUNE 04: James Milner of England on the ball during the International friendly match between England and Ecuador at Sun Life Stadium on June 4, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

And if Hodgson believes he needs more of a worker on the flanks, to replace some of the qualities that Welbeck brings, then Sterling could be used in the No.10 role he filled in the latter part of the season for Liverpool, with James Milner on the right and Wayne Rooney playing, as he did against Honduras, nominally from the left.

Sterling's lack of involvement in that game clearly won't have any impact on Hodgson's selection, as he was quoted as saying in the Guardian:

If you’re asking me will I hide behind that, to not consider him, then no I won’t because he’s as fit as a flea and I’m pretty certain he hasn’t forgotten how to play matches, either.

It was unfortunate that he couldn’t play against Honduras but I can tell you that Raheem Sterling is very much in the group of players I’m considering.

If I select him, it won’t be in my opinion a risk that he hasn’t played so many minutes. And if I don’t select him, it certainly won’t be because he has only played 39 minutes. It will be because I prefer someone else. That’s all I can tell you.

Sterling would offer a little more dynamism to the England side, and is perhaps the only man in Hodgson's squad to have the sort of raw speed so useful on the counter-attack. While Welbeck's injury is unfortunate, England may be better off with Sterling instead.

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