Free of the shackles that have hampered squads of yesteryear, this young, vibrant England side are ready to be unleashed on the world stage. Roy Hodgson will field an XI bristling with youthful exuberance and underpinned by a few experiences figures; a marriage that will see the Three Lions surprise plenty in Brazil.
That’s the narrative that optimistic England supporters are sticking with anyway.
But the truth is that while Hodgson is perhaps not as dull and dreary as many would make out, he is staunch in his pragmatism, and the team he sends out to face Italy on June 14 will reflect that.
Taking into account the most recent murmurings in the media, here’s the team that’s expected to take to the field against the Azzurri for the Three Lions’ opener, how the Italians look likely to line-up and the major conclusions we can draw ahead of this vital game in Group D:
Defence Settled And A Little Underrated
In the build-up to the tournament, the glaring weakness in this England team—so we were told—was the back four. But in truth, you could argue that assessment is a little harsh.
Joe Hart has re-established himself after a mid-season blip with Manchester City and he looks in peak condition ahead of the finals. And despite the cries from some quarters of the media to reintegrate John Terry into this set-up, Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill have formed an excellent partnership at the heart of the defence.
Flanking them will be right-back Glen Johnson and left-back Leighton Baines. The latter has enjoyed an excellent season at Everton and fought off competition from Ashely Cole and Luke Shaw to nail down a starting berth, while Johnson has next to no competition for his spot. The Liverpool man has looked a little out of sorts in the warm-up games, and if there is to be a chink in England’s defensive armoury, it’s probably him.
Liverpool Midfield Axis Picks Itself
In the holding midfield berths, the playmaking skills of Steve Gerrard and the unrelenting industry of Jordan Henderson make for a fine combination. Both players are wholly familiar with each others game, and each is an idyllic stylistic foil for the other.
Gerrard has grown into his role as a deep midfielder and was superb at dictating the play for Liverpool from that position towards the tail end of last season. His ability to recycle the ball will be vital in the punishing heat and suffocating South American humidity.
But Henderson arguably has a more important role. Given the aforementioned issues with the climate, he’ll have to be measured and mature in his energetic bursts. If he goes off like a steam train and tires himself out, he could leave his skipper exposed against slick, sharp passers, of which the Italians have plenty.
Sterling Is Potentially England’s Key Man
The first seven men in the team essentially pick themselves. Where Hodgson has some big decisions to make is in how he decides to line England up from an attacking point of view. And if recent reports are to be believed, then Raheem Sterling could be line for a central role in a very literal sense.