It has been apparent for some time that England are far too light in deep midfield, to the extent that former captain Steven Gerrard was thrown into the anchor roll ahead of last summer’s World Cup, with disastrous consequences in Brazil.
Thankfully, this hasn’t gone unnoticed by Three Lions gaffer Roy Hodgson, who recalled Manchester United’s Michael Carrick at the earliest available opportunity following the tournament, after the Geordie had been unfairly ignored by his country for years.
As it turned out, Carrick wasn’t available for England’s first six games of the 2014/15 campaign due to injury, but put in an assured shift in the 4-0 Euro 2016 qualifying win over Lithuania at Wembley.
However, according to a range of reports, the 33-year-old will be rested when Hodgson’s side take on Italy in a friendly at the Juventus Stadium, so the veteran coach can assess his long-term options in deep midfield. Unfortunately, these aren’t plentiful.
This was our predicted lineup ahead of the clash with Lithuania:
It turned out Aston Villa’s Fabian Delph wasn’t as ill as first feared, and Hodgson stuck with Southampton’s Nathaniel Clyne ahead of returning Spurs right-back Kyle Walker:
After their previous Euro 2016 qualifier, when Slovenia were seen off 3-1 at home, the 67-year-old tinkered with his personnel and his formation for a friendly in Scotland, switching from 4-1-2-1-2/Diamond to 4-3-3, with some success given England emerged as comfortable 3-1 winners against the Auld Enemy.
The media vibes suggest he’ll stick with the Diamond for the trip to the Azzurri though, with a few players moved around and others coming in:
Harry Kane has been assured of a place in the XI by the manager, and Arsenal’s Theo Walcott is expected to line up alongside the Spurs centre-forward, despite starting just five of his side’s 17 fixtures since returning from injury on New Year’s Day.
This means Man Utd and England skipper Wayne Rooney dropping into the number ten role vacated by Raheem Sterling, who has returned to Liverpool, while the central-midfield pairing of Delph and Reds captain-in-waiting Jordan Henderson should remain.
The shock selection could be Phil Jones for Carrick, with the Red Devils centre-half seen as a potential long-term fix in front of the defence.
Jones’ teammate Chris Smalling would be an able deputy for the Preston native in the backline, so the potential experiment seems worthwhile in a meaningless match, although holding-midfielder Jack Cork can feel unlucky not to have been tried there after a couple of cracking seasons at Southampton and Swansea.
With Leighton Baines back at Everton, Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs is likely get the nod at left-back ahead of recent call-up Ryan Bertrand, while Walker should make the side instead of Clyne this time.