England, a case for the defence

England defenders Cahill and Jagielka

Time for World Cup PHASE 2 as far as team selection goes. In the build up to Roy Hodgson’s choice of his FIFA 23 every man and his dog had their say, indeed one or two canines made better arguments than some of the media’s finest.

Now that ship has sailed it’s down to the 1st XI. In fact there probably is no such beast as the best eleven players – more a case of horses for courses, depending on the opposition. Now, while Italy and Uruguay have a few thoroughbreds, due respect to Costa Rica, England are more blessed with workhorses. The sprinkling of more technically proficient players Roy has at his disposal will have to be cleverly deployed for maximum effect.

There is no question Joe Hart is by far and away the number one between the sticks. But in front of him there remains serious questions about the individuals and the back line they make up. It’s a football cliché that if you don’t concede you do not lose football matches, however you don’t win games without scoring but that’s a debate for another day.

The back four that started against Peru is likely to be the one that kicks off against Italy but serious attention, and advice, has to be given to Glen Johnson and Phil Jagielka especially, although the Everton man, in his defence, was a little ‘ring rusty’ due to injury for his club side towards the end of the domestic season.

Jagielka is the perfect foil to Gary Cahill, if he has his A game in place. In Cahill England have a player who should be at home in Brazil. The Chelsea man combines football ability, more closely associated with Beckenbauer, with no compunction to dispatch the ball into Row Z if required. He can also tackle.

Johnson is my major concern in defence. He continues in flattering to deceive and there is inherent danger having a full back who has delusions of being a wing-back or even a forward. Uruguay and Italy will not be as forgiving, if Johnson is caught in possession, as Peru were.

Baines playing for England against GhanaHaving to concentrate on being a defender, or so advised by Hodgson and Neville, may be a blessing in disguise. If there is any drop in his ability to come up with the goods the Liverpool man may see his place under serious threat from James Milner, who IS a wing back, who IS a winger and who can do a job at full back.

Leighton Baines may have to be more selective in his forward forays. Thankfully his decision making between attacking and defending is usually faultless. Throw in his set-piece proficiency and this World Cup could be the making of the Everton left back.

England can also count on a proficient, if inexperienced understudy in Luke Shaw. Left out due to illness from the team that beat Peru at Wembley, Shaw won his place in the squad by displacing Ashley Cole and his 100 caps, a sure sign that there is faith in Shaw to deputise at left-back if needs be.

England’s remaining defensive slots are filled by Chris Smalling and Phil Jones – both able, if not stellar deputies that have the positional versatility to fill in at a number of roles in the defence if required.

By
Longest serving freelance football reporter for Sky Sports, 1,000+ games. Author of Breedon Book of Premiership Records and Three Lions.
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