It’s not time to panic. Well that’s according to Roy Hodgson at least, and whilst he is in theory right, back-to-back home defeats for the first time since 1977, without a goal scored, can hardly be counted as ideal preparation for a World Cup. In fact against Germany on Tuesday night England failed to register a shot on target, the first time that has happened in a home match since a home reverse against Scotland in 1999.
Despite this, and the fact that the Germans probably had two or three gears they could have hit if needed, Hodgson kept referring to these games as great learning experiences but in reality just how much have we learnt?
In terms of personnel arguably not a lot. There is only one more friendly before Roy Hodgson has to name his provisional 30-man World Cup 2014 squad, and whilst there may be a few surprises the final 23 is probably more or less sorted.
So which players will be off to Brazil?
In goal Joe Hart will start, there can be no arguments. He is an excellent goalkeeper and whilst he has suffered a slight dip in form and confidence his goalkeeping credentials haven’t suffered. As long as he is playing regularly before the finals he is the number one. Who goes as his back-up is slightly trickier.
Fraser Forster looked solid in his debut and he could end up being on the plane alongside West Brom’s Ben Foster, providing the Baggies’ keeper makes a solid return from injury. John Ruddy looks vulnerable at the moment and he will need an upturn in form over the coming months.
Moving onto the defence and all four full-back roles would appear to pick themselves. Glen Johnson and Kyle Walker are both good going forward but still leave a little to be desired defensively, but at the moment they are in pole position. The debate over whether it should be Ashley Cole or Leighton Baines starting in Brazil will probably rumble over until the opening match (why not have a look at a potential solution here…) but they are definitely the two going, injuries permitting. This tournament seems to have come too soon for Southampton duo Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw but they could well feature at France in 2016.
Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka will be the starting centre-back pairing and it would appear as if Phil Jones and Chris Smalling will go as reserves. Aside from probably being the future in that position both players can fill in at other positions if required which is very useful. Steven Caulker is another but realistically he needs an extremely good run of form and a severe drop from either Smalling or Jones. Other options include Michael Dawson and Ryan Shawcross but neither would appear to be in favour with Hodgson.
In the middle Steven Gerrard and Jack Wilshere would perhaps seem the only guaranteed places on the plane. Taking both Frank Lampard and Michael Carrick to the finals would mean three over-30s in central midfield and Hodgson might want a bit more youth in that mix.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Tom Cleverley though; the Manchester United man seems to have created an illusion over his ability thanks to the stature his current employers. Manchester City’s James Milner should go to Brazil if only for his hard working attitude and versatility and Jordan Henderson is another who could secure a place in the squad.
Wide men / Forwards
On the wing Hodgson could face some really tough decisions. You would imagine that Andros Townsend, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck will all be selected. That’ll leave one place up for grabs and at the moment it looks like Adam Lallana is in pole position. If he keeps up his current form it’ll be extremely difficult to wrestle that plane ticket from him. Ross Barkley and Aaron Lennon will also be in contention right up until the end.
Up front Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge pick themselves, especially on current club form. Depending on how many midfielders are taken (and including the fact that Welbeck is counted as a winger for England) there could be just one spot left. At the moment that should be filled by Rickie Lambert but Andy Carroll, Jermain Defoe, Jay Rodriguez and Gary Hooper will want to have a say in matters before June.
So what did Germany & Chile teach us?
By that reckoning that leaves perhaps three or four spots of the 23 still to be decided and realistically only Lallana made any sort of impression during these two matches. Hodgson will have been delighted with Joe Hart’s performance against Germany, even if he suffered another rush of blood in coming for a ball that definitely wasn’t his, but was his place ever really in danger?
All four full-backs failed to really distinguish themselves and their selections will probably be made much later on, although Johnson would appear to be ahead of Walker at right-back.
Aside from that there wouldn’t appear to be much that would have changed Hodgson’s mind, at least in terms of the actual players.
Tactically the 4-2-3-1 England have adopted isn’t going to go away quickly and it can be very good when attacking, with the wingers cutting inside and the full-backs getting forward. Rooney is enjoying his free role behind a striker but against the bigger sides how do England stop their midfield getting overrun?
Germany were far from electric (sometimes they were barely static) but unlike England you felt they had a lot more to offer and, if they had wanted to, they could have obliterated their hosts. If England are drawn into a tough group the pressure will be on from the word go.
The scheduling of the friendlies therefore seems odd. Surely it would have made more sense to play Germany in March and used that game to work out an alternate strategy? It may seem defensive but if England are too adventurous sides like Germany, Spain and others will destroy them on the counter attack.
It would therefore appear that despite Hodgson’s assurances these friendlies haven’t really been that useful at all. Of course we learnt that England probably aren’t going to win the World Cup but surely we knew that already? Did we really expect to beat the Germans? Probably not. The defeat to Chile is disappointing but to be honest that’s more a reflection of where England stand in world football.
If anyone thinks England are going to rock up in Brazil next summer and breeze through to the quarter-finals then they are going to be in for a nasty shock. There are some very good sides in this tournament, a lot that are better than England. Perhaps then that is the ultimate lesson that Hodgson has learnt: that he has one hell of a task on his hands.