Going into the final two games of UEFA 2014 World Cup Qualifying, England knew it needed to win their games against Montenegro and Poland to ensure qualification for the 2014 World Cup and avoid having to try qualifying via the playoffs. One of the biggest questions headed into these two games was whether or not England manager Roy Hodgson would use experience or shed his conservativeness and opt for youth in the midfield.
Hodgson surprised many in a pleasant way by deciding to play 22-year old uncapped Tottenham midfielder Andros Townsend on the right side of the midfield instead of going with his natural conservative tactic of playing James Milner in that position. This bold move paid off as Townsend was man of the match and it was clear that his speed and daring, attacking willingness helped see England beat Montenegro 4-1.
Then again on Tuesday against Poland, Hodgson continued to put faith in youth as he kept Townsend in the starting eleven and dropped Frank Lampard for a younger but experienced Michael Carrick to play alongside Steven Gerrard. Again the play of young players like Townsend, Danny Welbeck, and Daniel Sturridge helped lead England to a 2-0 win over Poland and ensure qualification to Brazil next summer.
It is clear that the decision to not play it safe and show some willingness to be aggressive by taking the game to two weaker teams whom they are clearly better than helped England to win and ensure qualification as a result of the infusion of youth into the team. This is something that Hodgson should be applauded for, especially from individuals like myself who have criticized him for holding back his England teams in past games with his conservative, safety first tactical approach.
With that said, the fact that he played the likes of Townsend, Welbeck, and Sturridge should only serve as proof for Hodgson that he needs to continue with a youth movement into the senior team. That is not to say that there isn’t a place for veteran players like Gerrard or Wayne Rooney in the starting eleven because, as their performances against Poland proved, they still can deliver for England. But for players like Lampard, his role needs to be coming on as a substitution like he did Tuesday in a situation where his ball retention skills to stem Polish attack were needed.
From here on forward, Hodgson needs to continue embracing fielding a youthful starting eleven with the likes of Arsenal trio Jack Wilshire, Theo Walcott, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to figure prominently along with a Ross Barkley who has shown great play with Everton to add to what is already there and available. Now this is not to say that this will guarantee a run to the quarterfinals at the World Cup, but at the very least it ensures that their chances of making such a run are much better by Hodgson embracing a youth movement.