World Cup Qualifiers: A suggested XI for England
World Cup Qualifier: England v San Marino
One of my favourite football jokes concerns a team attempting to get fired up to play what they perceive as weak opposition. The specific teams are irrelevant, usually one will insert one's favourite and least favourite team. The joke goes something like this:
The team are in the dressing room getting fired up for the big local derby by trading remarks about how terrible the opposition are. Finally, after being worked into a frenzy, the captain stands up and announces that he can win the game by himself and the other ten may as well go off to the pub. So they do. After a while of drinking and chatting they decide to check to score. One of the players pulls it up on his mobile and sees that they are 1-0 in front at halftime with the captain having scored in the tenth minute. Satisfied, they return to their revelry. Some time later they check the full time result and to their horror see that the opposition got a last minute equaliser. They rush back to their dressing room where they find the captain looking distraught. When asked what went wrong he replies 'I had it in the bag until the bloody ref sent me off in the eleventh minute!'
This was bought to mind because England are playing San Marino at home tomorrow and were it not for the law that states at least seven players must play for each side one almost thinks that even England could get a 1-1 draw after only starting one player. But England will play eleven men tomorrow and although Roy Hodgson could probably lead the line himself to no ill-effects, this is an opportunity to see how some less often used players get on.
Although the starting XI seems to be set (and the FA are trying as hard as they can to follow the joke by having Wayne Rooney captain the side) this is the XI I would play to assess players ahead of the match against Poland.
John Ruddy appears to be the current backup to Joe Hart, but only has one international cap. Hart is far and away the better player, but it would be wise for England to give his understudy some time in a meaningful match. The last thing England want is a repeat of Rob Green in 2010 and need to make sure they have a ready replacement should a worst case scenario arise.
An exception to the overall goal of playing less tested players, Glen Johnson gets into the side to provide leadership (he would be the captain) and a stable hand. He is also, of course, a more than handy defender.
Kyle Walker has been an unused sub in the first two matches, but against San Marino I'd like to see him get the nod over the more established Joleon Lescott. The latter has not done anything wrong, but this is a great time to see what Walker, who has only three caps, can do.
Everton defender Phil Jagielka came into the side in place of the retired John Terry for the draw against Ukraine last month and should keep his place. He does not have a lot of international experience, but does have ample club caps. He looks the best shout to replace Terry and should now get an extended run in the side.
No change here; Leighton Baines has come into the side in place of Ashley Cole for the first two World Cup qualifiers and like Jagielka should keep his spot, especially with few others at which to look.
The very young and very talented Arsenal midfielder has probably deserved more playing time than he has got in internationals over the course of this year. But he has started both of England's matches in the qualifiers so far and there is no reason why he should not do so again.
It's been two years since Aaron Lennon last played for England and there has been a good reason for that. But his form has very much improved and it is time for him to get another look.
It pains me of course to put a Manchester United player in the England team, but Tom Cleverly has started both of the first two World Cup Qualifiers and there is no reason why he should not do so again. He is talented and well worth a decent look.
Theo Walcott almost certainly should have got more time during the European Championships and his appearances off the bench provided an excellent jolt of pace. With Steven Gerrard suspended there is no reason why he should not start.
Andy Carroll has been much derided, and rightly so, over the last year and a bit after an expensive move to Liverpool failed to pay dividends. But he did start to look much better near the end of last season and actually had a pretty good time at the European Championships. He is well worth another look.
Another exception to the theme of youth, Wayne Rooney was suspended for much of the European Championships and arguably should not have played in any of the matches. It would be better then to have him play to make sure he doesn't miss too much time with the international team. Plus, he provides a relatively veteran presence at the front.