Monday Night’s comfortable 3-0 in Lithuania gave Roy Hodgson’s England side a 100% record in qualifying after 10 wins out of 10 in Group E. Whilst this in itself sounds very impressive, there was no real quality in the group with Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania and San Marino making for very modest opponents.
England have used a massive 33 players in qualifying and this is down to injury and just no real quality in some positions, with Sky Pundit and Ex Liverpool Defender Jamie Carragher claiming that it has never been easier to win an England Cap. Lets look at the England squad from this month’s Internationals, especially Monday Night’s team, and see if Carragher had a point.
Starting with the Goalkeepers, this is probably the one area where there is no problem with Joe Hart, one of the World’s best keepers, who played in 9 of the qualifiers before sitting out Monday. His understudy Jack Butland came into the side on Monday and did well and rightfully deserved his place in the side after doing so well for the under 21s over the years. He has also started this season on fire at Stoke City and there is no reason he can’t push Hart for a permanent place in the side in the future. The Third Choice Keeper recently has been Tom Heaton and whilst the Burnley man isn’t the third best England keeper it hardly matters with it unlikely he would ever have to play in a competitive game. He is currently battling with Norwich’s John Ruddy for that meaningless place on the plane to France, with Ben Foster and Fraser Forster currently out with Long-term injuries. If the latter returns to full fitness and gets back into the Southampton team, expect Forster to join Butland and Hart on the plane.
Next is the full backs who create a real selection problem for England. Nathaniel Clyne is the current right back and while he is a good player, he never seems comfortable for England which is a big worry when they come up against a decent side like Spain, Germany etc. His understudy is Kyle Walker who, as usual, was awful against Lithuania. His assist for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s goal was the only decent thing he did in the entire game. The only possible alternatives for England would most likely be Phil Jones, John Stones or Micah Richards who is an improvement on Walker but is still not good enough to be a regular at International level.
At left back it all looked quite strong at the start of qualifying with Leighton Baines and Luke Shaw battling for a place in the starting XI. Baines has been injured for a while now though which opened up an opportunity for Shaw who came in and did a very good job before a double leg break massively hinders his chances of making the European Championships in the summer.
In their absence Kieran Gibbs and Ryan Bertrand were both given a call up, with Gibbs barely kicking a ball this term. Bertrand has missed part of the season through injury, but has come back into the Saints team and done a good job, although he didn’t look that impressive against Estonia. Gibbs has been left out of the Arsenal team for most games this season, because of good form from Nacho Monreal. Gibbs’ call up shows that England are so desperate at the moment that you don’t even have to be playing regularly to get in the squad. Gibbs did okay against Lithuania, although he was barely tested, and if England have any chance of doing anything in France then Baines has to be fit, with Shaw looking very likely to miss out.
The centre backs are reasonably strong with Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling the current pairing preferred by Roy Hodgson and they are both players that deserve their place in the squad. Phil Jagielka is another one who deserves his place in the squad after impressing for Everton and England since the start of last season. Youngster John Stones has proved to be a massive talent and is pushing for a place at centre back, but could be given a go at right back so that they can accommodate such a talent. The other centre back in this month’s squad was Phil Jones, who made an appearance against Lithuania. The United man has been out for a long time with a blood clot and it’s a worrying sign that he’s in the England squad considering he hasn’t returned to full fitness yet.
In the centre of midfield England could not be more unlucky, with Jack Wilshere, Fabian Delph, Jordan Henderson and Michael Carrick all currently missing out through injury. It has meant that James Milner has been tried in the defensive midfield slot, a position he has done well in for Liverpool, and his versatility makes his a certainty for a place in France.
In both the matches this week Adam Lallana and Ross Barkley occupied the more attacking roles in the heart of the midfield and whilst Lallana played well, it was Barkley who really excelled with good vision and confidence to add a goal in Lithuania to his assist against Estonia. Barkley has lots of potential and his technical ability makes him a must pick for the Euros. The other player to start in midfield this week was Jonjo Shelvey, who did a decent job against Lithuania but who is in a real battle for his place in the squad with Carrick and Delph. The final central player who made an appearance was a ridiculous pick in Dele Alli. Alli has done well at Spurs, but considering he only made his under 21s debut last month and has started just 3 games for Spurs his selection is a bit of a joke. If England have to resort to picking someone as inexperienced as Alli, then quite frankly England will do poorly in France and will need Henderson and Wilshere to return to full fitness if they’re to have any chance next year.
On the wings they have five players in the current squad who will all fight for a place in the squad. The starting two from Friday were Raheem Sterling and Theo Walcott. Sterling did well and will be on the plane to France and Walcott just has to go after looking very impressive up front for Arsenal and added another goal from the right for England.
Jamie Vardy started the game in Lithuania after coming off the bench and getting an assist against Estonia. He struggled a bit against Lithuania and with Welbeck and Sturridge still to return to the squad, he will know that the only way he will be playing in the European Championships is by continuing his incredible form for Leicester and also looking to replicate it on the International stage.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also started against Lithuania and he took his goal well, but didn’t do a lot else than that and after struggling to get a start for Arsenal, he will need to break into the Starting XI for the Gunners. He still looks likely to go to the Euros as he has been a bit of a go to player for Hodgson, notably when he started at Euro 2012. The final winger is a very interesting one in Andros Townsend. He has been poor for Spurs and is out of favour under Mauricio Pochettino, but always seems to turn it on when it comes to England. It’s too early to say whether he will be included for France, but surely he only deserves to go if he plays well at Spurs.
Up front there were 3 major absentees for England with Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney ruled out through injury and Daniel Sturridge not yet fit enough to risk in the dead rubbers. This gave Harry Kane a chance to start both games and he did a decent job, peppering the goal against Lithuania and being unlucky not to score, although he did force the Giedris Arlauskis own goal with a good shot that was tipped onto the post only to hit Arlauskis and trickle in. Danny Ings came on against Lithuania and did OK and with the injuries for key strikers, he deserved his place in the squad after looking good for Liverpool. It will be interesting to see whether Ings gets in the squad when it actually matters, with the return of Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott showing that he should be considered up front as well as on the right.
What Jamie Carragher has said does make sense and he does have a point that it is. currently, very easy to get an England cap. But a lot of the players do deserve their place and an opportunity to shine. It is true that injuries have depleted England’s resources, but, as shown at right back, there is also a very worrying lack of depth and England’s friendlies against the likes of Netherlands, Spain and Germany will show where they really are in relation to the big European powerhouses.
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