International break is a chance for everyone to take a week to reconsider their team's league position, pray for no injuries and hope that your country doesn't bore you senseless. In the case of England fans, this last part is less than guaranteed. Despite qualifying unbeaten from their group there was little to really get fans dreaming of success in France next summer. Now with two challenging friendlies against Spain and France on the way Roy Hodgson really has a chance to boost belief in the national team with impressive performances and bold selections.
The second half of that could be possible after Hodgson selected a young and impressive squad for the matches, but one thing is worrying about the selection policy being used: there doesn't seem to be one. In the qualifying games England cruised, but young players were not tested out apart from in foregone conclusions. Even with qualification sealed they weren't given competitive experience of international football. Not only did Hodgson not play the youngsters, however, he also didn't necessarily play the in-form players. Sticking with a tired old formula of players we recognised but who were off-form or just not very exciting, such as James Milner or Michael Carrick, left fans bored and restless with England performances.
There is nothing necessarily wrong with playing a settled team or picking the same squad every time, but with players like Carl Jenkinson and Aaron Cresswell playing well at West Ham and Scott Dann at Crystal Palace staking a claim for a place in the squad on current form it is hard to understand the logic of some of the selections. There is a lack of centre backs in the England squad, with arguably Chris Smalling the only out-and-out centre back in the current squad in any sort of good form. This is where the problem lies. Whilst there are a number of young full-backs and midfielders in the squad there are also a lot of players who are neither the future of England nor in very good form.
Dann may not be the long term answer at 28, but neither is Carrick at 34. To pick players over 30 who have not had much match action for their clubs recently and who might not even go to the European Championships seems pointless, particularly when there are a number of young talents who could make the step up in central midfield. The logic of picking neither young nor in form players is baffling.
My team for the matches against France and Spain would be the team I intended to start the tournament with, assuming retention of current form from all involved. Jack Butland is pushing Joe Hart all the way but major match experience puts the current number one in command of the shirt for now. Keeping club partnerships together is often a good way of building a successful international squad, so picking Smalling and Manchester United team mate Phil Jones would be logicial, but I have been unimpressed by Jones this season and would give his place in the side to Stones. Stones is not a right back, as much as Hodgson wants to play him there. At full back I would select Ryan Bertrand and Nathaniel Clyne, although I would replace Kyle Walker and Kieran Gibbs with the two West Ham players and bring Dann in for Gary Cahill, at least in the short term.
In midfield I would select a trio of Dier, Delph and Dele Alli. They are young, raw and probably not ready yet, but getting them experience in matches like these could be invaluable. I would bring Barkeley in for games against weaker opposition, replacing Dele Alli and playing further forward. Sterling and Vardy would get my positions on the wing, with Vardy's defensive work rate playing a major part in his selection. In the middle would be Harry Kane. Wayne Rooney is clearly not in good form and won't have many more years for England at the highest level. Kane is not scoring as freely as last year but he is always a willing runner and against a team like Spain England will not see much of the ball.
That team provides youth, hard work and an eagerness to play well for England. Too often players are bored of representing their country or don't play as well in the national team as they do at club level, so by picking young players in great form Hodgson has a chance to inject some life and excitement back into watching England. Unfortunately we will probably end up watching Jones, Carrick and Rooney labour through 90 minutes. We can only hope Roy will be ready by next summer....
Ali Haggis, Editor
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