Over the course of the next week England’s attempts at qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Brazil will become much clearer after their fixtures against San Marino and Montenegro; but with all the injury problems facing Hodgson there should certainly be some apprehension starting to creep in.
With Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill, Michael Dawson and Phil Jones all injured it meant Hodgson performed a U-Turn by calling up Rio Ferdinand for the squad. With John Terry retired the former Fulham and West Brom gaffer was essentially left no choice. Then Rio pulled out to complete a pre-planned injury programme and is now swanning off to Qatar to play Alan Hansen for the evening.
They have other injury worries to boot; Jack Wilshere pulled out as has Aaron Lennon while Daniel Sturridge is again struggling with a thigh injury.
None of these issues should be a problem for their first fixture.
In all honesty you could pick an England representative side from League Two and still expect them to walk the floor with the amateurs of San Marino.
So there is certainly an opportunity for Hodgson to give a few different names a chance in the starting line-up.
So here is our predicted XI ahead of the game with San Marino…
Johnson Smalling Lescott Baines
Cleverley Lampard Gerrard
Walcott Rooney Welbeck
First of all the goalkeeper and I personally cannot see the point in bringing Ben Foster back into the fold if he wasn’t going to get a chance against the minnows. I fully expect Joe Hart to go back in goal for the Montenegro game but just wonder if the West Brom goalie could get the nod in Serravalle.
The other surprise may be at left-back where I have gone with Baines ahead of Cole. Again I expect Cole will feature against Montenegro. But when you have two of the best left-backs in the world at your disposal to not use the slightly lesser one in the easier game makes no sense.
Centre-back is sure to be his toughest call but Smalling and Lescott have the most experience at this level and I imagine that he will want them in the side against Montenegro. Playing together may help them get used to each other as a partnership; but don’t be surprised if our Roy goes with Caulker instead.
As for the midfield it is a difficult one. With Scott Parker and Michael Carrick in the side you wonder if Gerrard and Lampard will both get a start. Roy was a big fan of the Tottenham midfielder at Euro 2012 but I think he will want to be more attacking against European small fry so suggest Lampard could start instead.
As for up-top I think the word will be pace and lots of it. San Marino are certainly not blessed with it so with Walcott and Welbeck either side of Rooney there should be plenty of goals.
This is a game of formalities and England should expect a comfortable victory. The most important thing to take from this game is a fully fit squad to Podgorica. So expect to see substitutes used wisely.
Who do you think will start for England tonight?
image: © Ethan.K