It is clear that the England team does not have the same standout, big-name talent right now that it had in the past. But it does have a lot of young players striving for that level, and although there is perhaps less talent in the first XI, the bench is deeper than it has been for a long time.
England manager Roy Hodgson has had a mixed bag of positives and negatives from the three World Cup warm-up friendlies so far, and one of the biggest positives has undoubtedly been the bench play — or more precisely, the players who will most likely be playing from the bench.
The first XI looks solid and functional, with a lively goal threat from Daniel Sturridge and Wayne Rooney up front, but in the heat and humidity of Brazil, the fresh players coming from the bench could make all the difference for any team late in a game, and England are strong in that area.
Ross Barkley has been the most impressive of the bench players in the warm-ups, and must be very close to being a starter. If it wasn’t for Rooney already playing in his position, perhaps he would be starting already. Barkley is quick-footed and skillful on the ball, and is very intelligent with the positions he takes up. He has fantastic vision and awareness, and the ability to find the crucial final pass. He is also a goal threat from long range too, as well as being a clinical distributor.
Another player who has impressed is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who will now seemingly be fit to play a part in Brazil after picking up an injury which looked like it could have ruled him out of the tournament. As things stand right now, he too will be coming from the bench with his enthusiasm, pace and direct running. Running at a tired defense, Oxlade-Chamberlain could be a huge weapon in the last 20 minutes or so, and as a defender, the Arsenal attacker is one of the last players you would want to see late on in a game.
As too would Raheem Sterling. Sterling was thought to be a lock as a starter, but he has so far failed to start a single warm-up game. The Liverpool attacker could still start in the first game against Italy after being suspended for the final warm-up match where he was scheduled to start, but it is perhaps still undecided at this point between Sterling and Danny Welbeck. Jack Wilshere has also been playing from the bench so far, and he too is a great asset to have at England’s disposal, ready to enter a game at any time.
Barkley, Sterling, Wilshere, and Oxlade-Chamberlain will all be among the better potential game-changers on any bench at the tournament. The pace, explosiveness, and confidence that they all bring will be very problematic for any opposition if/when they do enter a game. There is a fair argument that any of them could rightfully start, but as it seems, they will start from the bench as things stand.
The current England team do not look like a team who will blowout anybody they play, but they do look like they can hold anybody to a tight game. And although that can be dangerous for them, it can be dangerous both ways because the bench players of England are capable of winning any game they come on in.