England Head Coach Roy Hodgson is expected to name his 23-man squad for the European Championships on Thursday 12th May, which is almost three weeks before the official UEFA deadline - and even three days before Premier League season is completed on the following Sunday.
Only the man himself knows why he is choosing his army of combatants so early, but it is a clear indication that Hodgson has his squad already pencilled in – and that looks to be bad news for several players who are hoping to return from injury.
The tournament that begins from an England perspective against Russia on Saturday 11th June, and here we will look at Hodgson’s selection headaches in more detail.
Manchester City’s Joe Hart will travel to France as the undisputed first choice keeper in the England team. After the unfortunate injury to Stoke City’s Jack Butland against Germany back in March, Fraser Forster of Southampton is the likely deputy. Hodgson will not gamble on taking just two goalkeepers to the tournament, so his real decision lies between offering the third jersey to Ben Foster of West Bromwich Albion, or Burnley stopper, Tom Heaton.
The obvious names to focus upon are Manchester United’s Chris Smalling, Chelsea’s Gary Cahill and John Stones – who are likely to form the core of England’s defensive unit. Further experience will probably be provided from Stones’ Everton club-mate, Phil Jagielka. The full-back positions are a little more difficult to fathom. Nathaniel Clyne of Liverpool has been a recent regular for Hodgson in recent matches, and Tottenham’s Danny Rose has made a late claim for inclusion after impressing against Germany.
The other names to consider are fellow Spurs man, Kyle Walker and Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand as Hodgson is likely to plump for youthful exuberance in the flank areas, which offers little hope for Leighton Baines. Manchester United pair, Phil Jones and Luke Shaw are on the comeback trail to fitness, but are unlikely to break in at this very late stage.
After an incredible twelve months that has seen Tottenham’s Dele Alli rise from League 1 potential into England’s bright new star, the 19 year-old is a cast-iron selection for Hodgson this summer. Fellow Spurs man, Eric Dier must also be high on the list – not only for his excellent midfield performances for his club side, but also due to his versatility by being adept as a centre-back if required. Liverpool man, and thorough workhorse, James Milner is another certainty in Roy’s recruits in a utility role, along with Everton’s Ross Barkley, who has begun to show his undoubted attacking potential more regularly this season.
The central midfield waters become murkier for Hodgson, considering the merits of Jack Wilshere – who made his Arsenal comeback against Sunderland last Sunday and Liverpool Captain Jordan Henderson who was injured during their ultimately successful Europa Cup triumph over Borussia Dortmund – and this is before considering Leicester’s Danny Drinkwater, who has performed admirably this season under Claudio Ranieri.
Adam Lallana – also of Liverpool – is another strong candidate to book his place. His ability to perform in wide or central attacking roles will give Hodgson further options. Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling has recently returned from a groin injury, and is also likely to stake a strong claim. Arsenal winger, Theo Walcott could potentially be a casualty for the 23-man squad as the 27 year-old is struggling to hold down a regular place with his club side.
There has been much conjecture about England Captain Wayne Rooney after the fine recent international win over Germany with a youthful team – minus the 30 year-old Manchester United man. Rooney has since returned from injury and helped the Red Devils to their first FA Cup final appearance since 2007. Rooney still offers much for England and almost certainly will be the man to wear the armband against Russia. His likely strike partner is Tottenham’s Harry Kane, who is fast becoming one of the most feared strikers around. Kane has all the attributes required to be the focal point of England’s attack this summer.
Leicester’s Jamie Vardy will offer searing pace and an eye for goal that will almost certainly book him a place within Hodgson’s squad. The two Daniel’s – Welbeck and Sturridge of Arsenal and Liverpool respectively could be fighting for one squad place if the England coach decides to take only four strikers which would offer further options to other areas of the team.
Whoever he decides upon with his 23 players, England expects, and let’s hope that this time, England delivers!