England's Key Weapon and Achilles' Heel at 2014 World Cup

Garry HayesFeatured ColumnistJune 11, 2014

England national soccer team players pose for a group photograph before the international friendly soccer match between England and Peru at Wembley Stadium in London, Friday, May 30, 2014.  Pictured are, back row from left, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck, Adam Lallana, Phil Jagielka, goalkeeper Joe Hart, Gary Cahill, Jordan Henderson and front row, from left, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson and Leighton Baines.  (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Matt Dunham/Associated Press

Before Roy Hodgson named his 23-man squad for the 2014 World Cup, there was more than an air of trepidation surrounding England's chances in Brazil.

With dwindling numbers of homegrown talent in the Premier League and the majority of England's so-called Golden Generation either retired or no longer at their best, the mood was rather bleak.

It was a Catch-22.

Hodgson's dilemma was such: Opt for experience over youth and risk a mauling, or pick upcoming stars with the future in mind and risk a mauling.

In a bold move, he went for the latter, and in so doing has surprised many. Suddenly England's chances of progressing from Group D appear more favorable, with the younger players whom many questioned bringing a renewed sense of vigor to the Three Lions.

And at the heart of England's hopes will be the Liverpool contingent.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 26:  Daniel Sturridge, Chris Smalling,  Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson attend the opening of Nike Phenomemal House, at the Sorting Office on New Oxford Street on May 26, 2014 in London, England.  Daniel Sturridge, Chris Smallin
Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images

On the back of a fine 2013-14, where the Reds came within a single match of lifting the Premier League title, the Raheem Sterling-Daniel Sturridge-Jordan Henderson combination will be a key weapon for Hodgson to deploy in South America—not forgetting Liverpool and England captain Steven Gerrard.

When England crashed out of the 2010 World Cup on the back of a 4-1 mauling by Germany, the deficiencies in Fabio Capello's squad that day were laid bare for all to see.

England were well and truly humbled. They were disjointed, struggled to retain possession and lacked a key component in the modern game—pace.

They looked old, jaded and unable to cope with the youth of Mesut Ozil, Thomas Mueller and others.

BLOEMFONTEIN, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 27:  Thomas Mueller of Germany celebrates scoring his teams fourth goal with team mate Mesut Oezil during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Round of Sixteen match between Germany and England at Free State Stadium on Ju
Joern Pollex/Getty Images

There were many more problems besides those, but with his selection of those three Liverpool players, Hodgson has strengthened this England team considerably from what we have seen at previous World Cups.

Henderson's energy in midfield was vital to Liverpool's success last term. When Liverpool were sweeping aside all before them, his performances in midfield were vital to Brendan Rodgers' game plan.

Liverpool attacked with pace and intent, and before the opposition could take a breath, they were often out of sight.

Arsenal were thrashed 5-1 in February on the back of one of those displays, while eventual champions Manchester City suffered a similar fate in a 3-2 defeat at Anfield in April, struggling to cope with Liverpool's high-octane style in the early stages.

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JUNE 07:  Referee Ricardo Salazar (2nd L) speaks to Adam Lallana (L), Steven Gerrard (C), Wayne Rooney (2nd R) and Jordan Henderson (R) as Salazar delays the match due to inclement weather in the first half during the International Fri
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Henderson saw red against City, being dismissed in the 90th minute. He returned for the final match of the season, but in the intervening games, his absence had seen Liverpool drop five crucial points in the title race, eventually finishing second.

Call it coincidence, but Rodgers' side had won 10 on the bounce before Henderson's suspension.

Further forward, Sterling and Sturridge scored a combined 30 goals in the Premier League. They may have been in the considerable shadow of Luis Suarez, yet their effervescence was key to the goals their Uruguayan teammate scored.

They are an exciting pair, and if Hodgson can get the best out of Wayne Rooney, deploying him in a similar role to Suarez—constantly switching positions with Sturridge in attack, floating between the lines without wandering off to chase possession—England's threat on the counter will be considerable.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 28:  Daniel Sturridge (R) of Liverpool is congratulated by teammates Luis Suarez (C) and Raheem Sterling (L) after scoring his team's third goal as dejected Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard looks on during the Barclays Premier Le
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Indeed, it's the strongest England have looked in that position for a long time, with players across the front three all capable of finding the back of the net.

There is pace, energy and an abundance of skill to punish the opposition. Make no mistake: Uruguay and Italy will have to take them seriously.

It's at the other end of the pitch where Hodgson will be worried. For all their strengths on the break, England do look weak at the back.

Since Gary Neville's retirement, the Three Lions have lacked a world-class right-back. It's not been from want of trying they haven't found one, with various combinations being tested. It's more a case of the talent simply not being available.

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JUNE 07: Glen Johnson of England dribbles against Roger Espinoza of Honduras in the first half during the International Friendly match between England and Honduras at Sun Life Stadium on June 7, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Glen Johnson will be the first choice in Brazil, but it's clear Hodgson has doubts over his suitability, having experimented with James Milner in that position in the friendly against Ecuador in Miami last week.

Outside of Johnson, there is just Chris Smalling or Phil Jones to turn to, with neither excelling for Manchester United when they have started on the flanks.

It's an area of the pitch opponents will target, and England will need to be wary. It's width that often wins games, and England's right side will come under intense scrutiny throughout their time in Brazil.

And without a real dominant aerial presence at centre-back, it makes things interesting.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 30:  Gary Cahill of England congratulates Phil Jagielka of England on scoring their third goal during the international friendly match between England and Peru at Wembley Stadium on May 30, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Warren
Warren Little/Getty Images

Had John Terry been available for selection, he would have been a first choice for Hodgson, probably lining up alongside Chelsea team-mate Gary Cahill.

He isn't in Brazil, though, so it's down to Phil Jagielka and Cahill to show they are capable of commanding the England box with anything that's thrown at them, in a similar way to how Terry has made his name.

It's the ugly side of the game, and both players haven't always showered themselves in glory when the time has come for a backs-to-the-wall display.

We've seen England World Cup squads lopsided before; only this time it's in favor of their attackers.

In an age of obscure tactics, it may be a simple one that gets England through: "We'll score more than you."