England progressing though much more is needed
Although England, 12/1 with Coral to win Euro 2016, are showing good signs of progression, they are far from perfect. In the 4-0 victory over Lithuania, they demonstrated in phases from an attacking perspective where they are starting to click.
At the back, though, they lack the presence that John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and even Sol Campbell once offered them, when they were considered by many to have the best defence in world football. Against Lithuania, Gary Cahill and Phil Jones started at centre half, in what is probably the best of an average bunch.
The former plays in Terry’s shadow at Chelsea, though is probably the Three Lions’ best centre back, and can contribute goals. However, Jones would be caught out against much better strikers, and on the performance in England’s latest match, isn’t good enough to play for his country.
His club teammate Chris Smalling, though, has been in progressive form for Manchester United, arguably their best player against two tough teams in Tottenham and Liverpool; games the Red Devils both won, with the 25-year-old starring.
Smalling at least has pace, and is one of the only players in the squad who is academic, having gained good A-levels in business studies and economics, earning offers from universities in the process. It is this intelligence and aptitude that can, in time, turn the player into a superb centre back, and first choice for England.
Chris Smalling 2013/14
Him aside, and in the current squad, there isn’t really anyone who could justify a starting spot. A future candidate could turn out to be Steven Caulker, who is helping QPR fight off relegation from the Premier League. The 23-year-old has shown promise throughout his young career, though has never stayed in one place long enough to convince that he can impress consistently. He certainly has the talent and, if he settles down, he can play at whatever level he wants.
Another potential problem position for England, is the deep-lying midfield role and it depends on what qualities Hodgson is looking for. Signs indicate that he wants a more cultured approach, in the form of a specialist playmaker who can pick a pass, and while Michael Carrick, aged 33, has been called up for the latest matches, it is likely that this will be a short-term solution.
Although Andrea Pirlo, a legend for Italy, dictated play for the Azzurri at last summer’s World Cup aged 35, he has had to step aside to make room for PSG talent Marco Verratti. Realistically, Carrick could quite easily operate the same way for England at Euro 2016, though, it is thought Hodgson would prefer a younger alternative.
A handful of players could be in contention to take over, and while Jack Wilshere looked to have made this berth his own, there are concerns over consistency and fitness. James Ward-Prowse is a potential for the future, and has the requisite vision and passing ability; however, at just 20 and currently in the Under-21 set-up, he would need to continue his development in an upward curve.
Ward-Prowse is also at one of the best clubs to keep progressing, and Southampton have one of the most distinguished training centres and academies for him to become a class player. Another who has been impressive, and who could in time fill that role, is Spurs midfielder Ryan Mason. Mauricio Pochettino has clearly recognised his potential, and given him a chance alongside another young Tottenham star, Nabil Bentaleb.
The duo form a highly effective midfield pivot, with Mason showing obvious ability. One player who hasn’t had any media attention regarding the national team, is West Ham’s Diego Poyet, who has shown early signs of having his father, Gus’s talent. He has represented England at Under-20 level before, though appearances for the Hammers have been hard to come by this term.
It is likely he will have to go out on-loan to further his career, just like Mason, and in time could be the closest the Three Lions produce to a Pirlo-esque player. Fabian Delph is progressively prodigious; a robust box-to-box midfielder, who has shown he can do everything while Jordan Henderson can be the lynchpin.
Further forward it starts to get more complicated. At the tip of the diamond, Hodgson, or subsequent managers will have a variety of options. Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ross Barkley all have promising futures and, with the former at 26 being the oldest by a few years, England are well stocked in that area for the foreseeable.
In attack, competition is fierce, which is exactly what England need. For years the Three Lions have been starved up front; Wayne Rooney often being partnered with one of either Jermain Defoe or Peter Crouch. Now though, Danny Welbeck is in the international form of his life and his intelligence, movement and link-up play make England tick.
Daniel Sturridge is a clinical finisher, but has endured an injury-hit campaign, and new boy Harry Kane can become the best in the world. No exaggeration. Charlie Austin, at QPR, is yet to be selected, yet look a decent back-up option to cover any injuries, while at Under-21 level Saido Berahino and Danny Ings are frightening prospects.
There is no doubt about it. The future is exciting, though the squad needs handling with sensitive perception moving forward.