World Cup Ready?

England’s second home defeat on the bounce clearly underlines where we’re at – we are middling rather than fair. Beaten with relative comfort by both Chile and Germany. Chief worries include the fact that the German B team unpicked the England defence with pretty alarming regularity and that Chile played at a pace that laughed in the face of our stodginess. Plus I don’t recall a single shot on target from England last night – other than Townsend’s post-doinking drive.

I have been critical of Hodgson before and I will be again – believing him to be a thoroughly decent, articulate man entirely lacking the dynamism and motivational skills England need at this obviously lowish point. As a side we remain locked for the most part in the 4-4-2 culture –or certainly unable to play with pace, fluidity and imagination – and some of this is due to poor management. The only way for us to find some belief seems to be via isolated outbreaks of brilliance from certain individuals. Whilst these may come, that ‘environment’ is… where, exactly?

Player’s World Cup Readiness assessments, following the Germany game –

Hart    – nip and tuck whether he still retains the ‘Our Best Keeper’ tag. If he does then there will be little confidence from us fans or – more significantly – centre-halves wondering if they should clear the lines themselves… or expect him to come thundering out the box. Don’t rate him but we’ve seen too little of Forster in an England shirt. (Mark that down as an error against the manager.)

Walker     – swift and sometimes penetrative going forward, consistently poor defensively. Awareness and possibly temperament simply not good enough to see him through. A weakness. The gallivanting outside Townsend may pay off but good international wingers will have a field day against him.

Smalling – may be getting there as a developing player (at Manchester United) but hardly the lynchpin of any international defence. Has some composure but lacks stature. We don’t have time to wait for him to fill out into the role, so a likely squad player and decent back-up.

Cole     – for me our second best left-back, but still good enough. Authoritative and hugely experienced. Personally, think Baines has more fizz going forward and can also defend. Not much in this – and one of few positions where we have adequate cover.

Townsend – will now be a starter at the World Cup, having earned that right. Consistently positive – even when he fluffs his lines – and therefore genuinely likely to make something happen. We’ve already seen he can shoot as well as dribble… and teams will fear his running power.

Cleverley – has work to do to convince, having gone backwards in the last twelve months. At one stage looked bright and comfortable at elite level – must return to those heights to compete for a slot in the side.  Have previously admired his dynamism and wonder if he might provide balance, centrally.

Gerrard – increasingly looks our most influential player (imagine if he took a knock!!) Pinging passes all over and prompting to good effect. But he could do that stuff in his sleep and I still wonder if he was slotted into a relatively unambitious role too early. He is, after all, rarely a threat around the box these days and whilst it may be the case that his Roy of the Rovers days are over I might have preferred to have seen him further up the park, for longer. Perhaps that argument has now passed its sell-by-date but when Gerrard’s passing is off – and it sometimes is – he really does seem a pale shadow of a once rampaging force. But still a top top player and a worthy skipper.

Lallana – hmmmm. Offers balance and as yet only hints at the nature of his sphere of influence. Wellbeck ahead of him, currently in that wide left berth but… hmmm. Club form will be vital now. If he truly shines then a possible. The lack of fireworks not a concern if he links beautifully and nicks a goal or two. Again – arguably – should have had game-time earlier?

Rooney – an automatic choice either playing off the striker or right up front. His heart, consistency and ability not in question other than in tournaments (which may or may not prove anything.) But he has had two shocking major champs and will need to show well in Brazil. Thrives on possession, which is why I favour dropping him into advanced midfield/inside forward type role – but must play where we need him most…

Sturridge – which leads me to Sturridge. Was poor last night, reverting to that slightly laboured/out of touch mode he looked to have dispensed with early this season. Could well have been a function of playing slightly hurt but such is his current supremacy in the pecking order that Hodgson felt he must play against the Germans – understandably, given the relative lack of alternatives. England need him in poacher and swaggerer mode a.s.a.p. Then, he’s a handful and a genuine threat; last night, he wasn’t.

Subs who played some part:

Gibbs – still feels something of a rookie – and a distant third choice at left-back… but likely to be a realistic option in the future. Have some concerns about his awareness.

Henderson – returning from the ‘dead’ – very much to his credit – after poor start at Liverpool. Is now an option as midfield anchor and is beginning to thread a few meaningful passes as well as jog round and share possession.

Wilshere – injuries have cruelly undermined him. Has looked like our Great White Hope, being assertive, sharp and fabulous on the ball but niggling injuries are robbing him and us of something pretty special. Will he ever get the rest that seems necessary for a full recovery? If not, will we ever see him fulfil that promise?

Lambert – goodish journeyman but frankly barely an England international. Has neither the presence nor the killer instincts; can hold the ball up and links well enough but we simply need more than that. May make World Cup if options remain limited.  Obviously lacks pace.

Barkley – early days but has talent. Is he yet the man to come on and change the course or momentum of an international match though? If not, will he be going to Brazil for the ‘experience’? Answer yes – probably. But do rate him.

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