By Tim Poole
Roy Hodgson's England side may have made it to the World Cup but, based on their displays against Chile and Germany, they will not be troubling any of the favourites.
It's back down to Earth for the Three Lions, as back-to-back defeats at Wembley for the first time since 1977 turn the nation's new-found euphoria into a sense of 'same old England.' But what exactly did Hodgson learn from the losses? Goal investigates...
|ON THE PLANE
|Joe Hart (Manchester City)
Glen Johnson (Liverpool)
Kyle Walker (Tottenham)
Phil Jagielka (Everton)
Gary Cahill (Chelsea)
Ashley Cole (Chelsea)
Leighton Baines (Everton)
Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
Michael Carrick (Manchester United)
Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)
Theo Walcott (Arsenal)
Andros Townsend (Tottenham)
Danny Welbeck (Manchester United)
Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool)
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
After taking a beating by the media in recent weeks – and suffering the unthinkable by being dropped by Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City – Hart bounced back in style against Germany on Tuesday night.
The 26-year-old did not play against Chile but made several high-quality saves against the Germans. His only weakness, it seems, remains an indecision when coming off his line, with a 63rd-minute run outside his box a perfect example.
In defence, however, Hodgson will not be anywhere near as confident. Although Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka are virtually guaranteed to be on the plane to Brazil – bar injuries – neither did enough to convince of their class. Cahill, in particular, produced a poor showing against Chile, where, although Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez ruled the roost, Wigan midfielder Jean Beausejour made the Three Lions look average.
Alas, however much England fans may protest – and however morally questionable it may be – Hodgson might consider the thought of offering a lifeline to a certain John Terry, at least for the sake of having an experienced and commanding centre-back.
At full-back, the losses to Chile and Germany were equally chastening, with Leighton Baines, Ashley Cole, Glen Johnson and Kyle Walker all failing to particularly impress against a selection of wide men. Cole and Walker may have performed best of the quartet defensively, though a lack of final product up front – particularly in Walker’s case – puts Hodgson back to square one.
In midfield, however, the manager can perhaps breathe a sigh of relief, as the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Jack Wilshere and Michael Carrick all offered little evidence against their inclusions in the national side. As often is the case, Carrick’s absence served only to prove what a miss he is, while Wilshere, Lampard and Gerrard were hardly outshone by any stand-in competitors.
Up front, meanwhile, the England boss may be worried – but not in terms of personnel. The Three Lions failed to register a single shot on target against Germany and were bereft of creativity both against die Mannschaft and Chile. But the likes of Andros Townsend, Daniel Sturridge and Wayne Rooney still showed that they are miles ahead of any alternative attacking options.
|John Ruddy (Norwich City)
Fraser Forster (Celtic)
Phil Jones (Manchester United)
Chris Smalling (Manchester United)
Tom Cleverley (Manchester United)
James Milner (Manchester City)
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal)
Aaron Lennon (Tottenham)
Jermain Defoe (Tottenham)
Rickie Lambert (Southampton)
Adam Lallana (Southampton)
Jordan Henderson (Liverpool)
UP: Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal)
BACK UP: Ravel Morrison (West Ham)
The reality, however, fell somewhat short of expectations. Jones produced an average performance against Chile, before being replaced by a solid-looking Smalling. But any good work Jones’ replacement did against the South Americans he undid on his very next outing.
Indeed, as advanced as the modern game has become, both tactically and physically, it is still a simple inability to mark a man during a set-piece that can decide football matches. And, although Smalling was hardly alone in neglecting to deal with three crosses in a row, the United defender deserved huge blame for letting Per Mertesacker run free and head home the winner on Tuesday. Those sort of lapses in concentration are unforgivable during a World Cup year.
But one defender to have received a timely boost in recent days is Kieran Gibbs, who was given a healthy run-out against Germany. The Arsenal left-back did not embarrass himself and is a certainty to travel if one of Cole or Baines get injured.
In midfield, meanwhile, it was a mixed bag: Adam Lallana showed he really can make his mark on this England team with a natural transition into Hodgson’s side, though Tom Cleverley again failed to deliver in a white shirt.
But the growing gap between England’s first-choice midfielders and the chasing pack does have obvious benefits for Ravel Morrison, who returns to our contenders section after two more fine performances for the Under-21s – and that volley in training. On this form, the 20-year-old will surely get a call-up against Denmark in March, while Jordan Henderson is also proving a hard-working deputy in the middle of the park.
|Ashley Young (Manchester United)
Ben Foster (West Brom)
Matt Lowton (Aston Villa)
Luke Shaw (Southampton)
Steven Caulker (Cardiff City)
Ryan Shawcross (Stoke City)
Joleon Lescott (Manchester City)
Michael Dawson (Tottenham)
Jack Rodwell (Manchester City)
Gareth Barry (Everton)
James Ward-Prowse (Southampton)
Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)
Nathan Redmond (Norwich City)
Wilfried Zaha (Manchester United)
Andy Carroll (West Ham)
Saido Berahino (West Brom)
Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton)
DOWN: Ross Barkley (Everton)
DOWN: Jay Rodriguez (Southampton)
NEW ENTRY: Michael Keane (Manchester United)
NEW ENTRY: Robert Green (QPR)
NEW ENTRY: Tom Ince (Blackpool)
And there is perhaps no better justification than the fact that Gareth Southgate’s side earned their highest win in history with a 9-0 triumph against San Marino.
Five days prior, the Young Lions dismissed a resolute Finland side 3-0 – and no one shone more during both of those games than Manchester United youngster Michael Keane.
Although the defender may struggle for game-time and experience at Old Trafford this season, his authoritative presence, ability on the ball and remarkable eye for goal suggest he could be more useful in Brazil than some of those above him in the pecking order.
Tom Ince was also on target for the Under-21s, albeit against San Marino, and his consistent displays both for Blackpool and Southgate’s side merit an inclusion in this list – especially if a January move to the Premier League materialises.
In goal, there is also a new entry in Robert Green – despite the fact that the 33-year-old featured neither against Chile nor Germany. Indeed, the QPR shot stopper was not even picked by Hodgson but, with nine clean sheets in 15 games, his name may need to be thrown into the ring.
Moving down, however, are Ross Barkley and Jay Rodriguez, whose displays suggest their best England performances may be a while away yet. Everton midfielder Barkley made a positive enough impact late on against Chile, though his cameo as a second-half substitute against Germany showed indecisiveness, a poor touch and a tendency to give the ball away cheaply.
Completing the list are the likes of Saido Berahino, James Ward-Prowse, Raheem Sterling, Wilfried Zaha and Luke Shaw, who have all looked impressive – but not impressive enough to dethrone those ahead of them in the same position.
Will Hughes, Carl Jenkinson, Danny Ings and Jack Butland all performed similarly well for the Young Lions but not quite well enough to make this list - yet.
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