Roy Hodgson is at the start of his first tournament qualification experience with England. Having experienced a tournament proper without the burden of slugging through deepest darkest away days, he is sampling over the next five days the best and worst of international football.
On Friday night in front of a full house Wembley Stadium, Hodgson will be sending his team out to score goals goals goals against the feeble San Marino, who have not scored in four years and not won since their only international victory against Liechenstein in 2004. Along with Bhutan and the Turks & Caicos Islands, San Marino are the lowliest ranked country under the umbrella of FIFA.
Hodgson must send out a team who firstly will find the game a test and be motivated to compete against semi-professional footballers. Hopefully the home crowd can help suck the ball into the net. However, like any England manager, Hodgson has to contend with selection headaches. Already deprived of Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson through suspension; you can now add Frank Lampard (knee) and Ryan Bertrand (throat) to that list, as well as the ongoing furore surrounding Ashley Cole's supposed punishment for his tweeting against the FA last week.
Hodgson also lost captain John Terry to international retirement yet has gained newly installed captain, Wayne Rooney to the side after he missed the Macedonia/Ukraine games owing to the large gash he suffered on his left leg.
So what should Hodgson do with his formation? The loss of both Gerrard and Lampard has deprived Hodgson a chance to look at one without the other following on from another dismal performance together at home to Ukraine. This may give Tom Cleverley a chance to cement a position in the side, or alternatively allow Rooney himself to play off a front man such as Welbeck where he can gather the ball from clubmate Cleverley or Carrick and dictate play with his enthusiasm and zeal.
Who should play up front with Rooney, or in front of him? Club mate Danny Welbeck has a good partnership with Rooney as the start of last season showed, yet the purchase of Robin Van Persie at Old Trafford has meant less starts for Welbeck who often plays on the wing coming into play rather than an out and out forward meaning a dip in form. Perhaps Andy Carroll is the answer, returning from a hamstring injury, a 60 minute burst against the minnows of Marino where his height and strength will be overbearing may be the right result. Then just when they have seen the back of that man mountain on comes the wily Jermain Defoe who is scoring consistently for Tottenham, and is known for scoring late junk goals in one-sided defeats against tired defenders.
But what of the wings, should he play both Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott from the start to bomb down both wings and offer support alongside Welbeck/Carroll with Rooney sitting deeper. Personally, the sight of Carroll nodding headers down for free runners will be a good one and a certain amount of variety to proceedings.
As for the defence it picks itself right now owing to Terry's withdrawal, yet I would be prone to rest Ashley Cole and play the more in form, Leighton Baines of Everton who is in a rich vein of form and offers quality from set pieces and can get forward when necessary. As does his right back counterpart Kyle Walker who is full of attacking threat but does not refuse to defend, unlike Johnson.
Suggested starting XI: Hart - Walker, Lescott, Jagielka, Baines - Carrick, Cleverley, Rooney - Walcott, Carroll, Oxlaide-Chamberlain
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