Euro 2016 qualifiers: England v Lithuania, who plays?
If Roy Hodgson stays true to form, it should be relatively straightforward to second-guess his Three Lions starting line-up for the home Euro 2016 qualifier against Lithuania.
England are odds-on at 1/8 with Coral for the win, though does the England manager stick to what he knows or shake it up? In their last couple of qualifiers, Hodgson set up with a 4-4-2, utilising Jack Wilshere at the base of a diamond, flanked narrowly by Jordan Henderson and Fabian Delph, while Adam Lallana played just behind the front two.
This could have stayed intact, had it not been for the former Southampton star having to pull out of the squad due to injury. Therefore, the logical option would be to start Raheem Sterling in his place, after the 20-year-old featured as a substitute, adding an injection of pace.
However, Hodgson may prefer this kind of impact off the bench, and instead choose to play Ross Barkley, who has been in form for Everton in recent weeks, scoring in their last home match. This could be the kind of game that he is well suited to and, it will be a good test to see how well he takes to the free role for his country. Barkley’s impact at the World Cup, coming off the bench was certainly positive.
Wilshere is also injured; however, a more natural replacement exists in the form of Michael Carrick, who is likely to return to the England side after some outstanding performances for Manchester United recently.
It is decision time up front for Hodgson, after Harry Kane earned his first call-up to the squad, though the manager’s policy so far seems to have been letting new players acclimatise to being around the set-up and not giving them playing time on the first occasion that he calls them up.
Just like he did with Nathaniel Clyne, who will no doubt determine himself as England’s long-term right back. It takes a brave man to leave Wayne Rooney out of any starting line-up and, with the skipper unlikely to be played at the tip of a diamond, it can be safely assumed that one striker spot is his.
Based on past form, Hodgson is likely to stay loyal to Danny Welbeck, who is England’s leading goalscorer with five strikes so far in the Euro 2016 qualifiers. It is unthinkable that Kane won’t feature in either of England’s fixtures, though having never played with this team in a competitive environment before, starting him against Lithuania will be too much of an unnecessary risk for Hodgson.
The back four could more or less pick itself (Joe Hart being the obvious choice for goalkeeper), with Clyne sure to be joined by Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines. However, there is certainly a case to be argued for another Hodgson favourite; Chris Smalling, who for once would deserve a starting place, following recent form, that is definitely above his usual standard.
What Hodgson may be looking to learn from these next two games, are likely to be, how the team are progressing and gelling as a unit in their diamond system, and in the friendly against Italy, how far they have come since the Azzurri beat them 2-1 at the World Cup last summer.
A Kane hat-trick in both games, two wins and two clean sheets might be too much to ask, though one thing England are good at is surprises.