Walcott favourite to get England nod over Townsend for World Cup opener
This will be England’s line-up against Italy in the opening World Cup Group D game in Manaus on June 14th: Hart: Johnson, Jagielka, Cahill, Cole; Walcott, Gerrard, Wilshire, Welbeck; Rooney Sturridge.
Who thinks so? Well, that’s the team according to Coral’s prices and it doesn’t look a bad side, does it? But it does mean no place for full-backs Kyle Walker and Leighton Baines, veteran midfielder Frank Lampard and flying winger Andros Townsend, who impressed so much in the final qualifiers at Wembley.
Going through from back to front, Joe Hart, though struggling to hold down his place at Manchester City, looks a certainty to start in goal (1/5). Fraser Forster and John Ruddy have been waiting patiently in the wings, but if Hart is too miss out, Coral reckon it will be Ben Foster (6/1) who benefits.
Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill (both 1/3) would appear safe in the centre of the defence, but it’s a much closer call at full-back with Glen Johnson (5/6) and Ashley Cole (4/6) only narrowly preferred in the betting to Walker (evens) and Baines (11/10).
The greatest area of uncertainty is in midfield. Captain Steven Gerrard (1/8) is nailed on for a place, of course, but Jack Wilshire can be backed at 5/6 with Coral to start ahead of Lampard (11/8) and Michael Carrick (7/4).
And it’s a scrap for the position out wide on the right with Theo Walcott (4/6) just getting the nod over Townsend.
Danny Welbeck (6/5) might well start out wide on the left and the Manchester United striker has done so well for Roy Hodgson and is progressing so well for his club this season that it is difficult to see him not being part of the starting XI.
Up front it looks a shoo-in for Wayne Rooney (1/20) and Daniel Sturridge (1/3), but all this is assuming that everybody will remain in reasonable form, be free of injury and that Hodgson sticks to the formation he largely employed in the qualifiers.
A more cautious approach to the Italy clash might pair Welbeck with Rooney up front and bring in James Milner (7/2) into the left side of midfield. Milner has his critics at international level, but he has been putting in some impressive displays for Manchester City this winter and is trusted to do a sound job by the England management.
And if Hodgson decides to go a bit more gung-ho (unlikely) then there are any number of attacking midfielders shining for their clubs this season (like Ross Barkley, Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson and forgotten man Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain) ready to step in.