Jan Molby

England squad a strong mix of youth and experience – but Rooney remains key man

Jan Molby

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So the England squad has been formally announced, after 24 hours of pre-emptive leaks such as the omission and subsequent retirement of Ashley Cole, and I have to say I am satisfied with Roy Hodgson’s selection.

Ultimately, it was never going to be a huge shocker, nor were the battles for those hard-to-predict final spots on the plane going to cause much of an aftershock either way.

I like Rickie Lambert, and think he has earned a spot. It’s good that Andy Carroll is back from injury but Lambert has done everything right and won’t have a nation’s expectations thrust upon him. He is there as a support striker and a ‘Plan B’ of sorts and he is definitely good enough to provide something on the international stage.

It’s great to see the likes of Ross Barkley and Adam Lallana involved, but it’s also important that they are not over-exposed. And this is why it will be vital that Hodgson works the balance between experience and youth to perfection.

With Cole snubbed in favour of the fresh option in Luke Shaw, it served as somewhat of a surprise that Frank Lampard was included. Especially as the biggest fear of any England fan is to watch the combination of Lampard and Steven Gerrard frustratingly fail to find any chemistry in the middle of the park for the umpteenth time.

I don’t think we have anything to worry about, though.

Firstly, while Gerrard will be a key component of the starting XI, Lampard will not. Frank nonetheless brings the sort of knowledge and experience that cannot be overlooked, especially if you’re going to hand the proverbial keys over to the Barkleys and Lallanas.

I can see Lampard making cameos from the bench when legs get tired in the searing heat, and especially if England find themselves with something to defend and nerves start to jangle.

Of all the options for Lampard’s spot, it was either going to be him or Michael Carrick, surely, who could provide that sort of shelter for the younger stars and I feel Roy has made the right choice between the two.

Regardless of how the midfield and defence are set up, however, I think any remote chance England have of making the last four boils down to Wayne Rooney.

Like him or not, he is England’s key player and the man with the combination of skill and experience to decide just how well we do. A lot of that will depend on his discipline, both fitness-wise and as far as temperament is concerned, but it is encouraging that Rooney is taking a physio out there with him.

Little things like that can be enough to assure you that Rooney and Hodgson are taking this seriously enough so as to avoid the pitfalls of previous failed campaigns.

As for just how well England can do? Let’s not kid ourselves and pretend that they’re front-runners or anything, but Hodgson’s key quotes during the press conference for me were that “the most important thing is that we do not let our fans down”.

How are we do interpret “letting the fans down”? I feel reaching the quarter-finals, and only losing to a top team (and not by a humbling scoreline as they did in South Africa) would do just that. And the sheer amount of young talent in the squad should quell any minority grumbling should England go out in a relatively-dignified manner.

Personally, I think England and Italy will progress just fine. For all of England’s publicised shortcomings, they are still more than just a few dangerous players which is all Uruguay are these days. They are not the unit they were four years ago.

Just how well they do after that can come down to a number of things such as the luck of the draw, injuries and the such. But at this stage, with expectations at each passing World Cup shrinking for England, it’s fair to say that we should all be very happy with positive performances, a promising sight into the squad’s future and an exit which doesn’t depress the nation.

In closing, in case it’s of interest to anyone, here is the starting XI I would use from that squad to kick off the tournament. Though the infographic suggests Sturridge and Sterling are typical midfield wingers, they would operate more as wide forwards either side of lone front man Rooney, who could drop off if the Liverpool duo bombed into the box. Gerrard would sit back while Henderson moves forward to work with Lallana when England have possession.

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If you disagree with my choices, feel free to contribute your own starting line-ups in the comments section.

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