Analysis: Five conundrums for England manager Roy Hodgson, including where to play Jack Wilshere and where does Daniel Sturridge fit in

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The England manager must draw on all his experience to answer a number of key questions and secure a World Cup place

Even Roy Hodgson had to admit that this week feels like the biggest of his managerial career, one that stretches back more than three decades and 20 jobs. It will not be much of a party at the Grand Connaught Rooms, where the Football Association marks its 150th anniversary on 26 October, if the national team are contemplating a summer watching the World Cup finals from afar.

There can be no more promise of jam tomorrow, of delaying victory for another day. England’s World Cup qualification hopes rest on the performances of his side against Montenegro on Friday and Poland four days later. Win them both, and Hodgson can spend time looking through the Rio de Janeiro training camp options or, if he so chooses, triumphantly tweeting Gary Lineker.

Anything less than two victories could leave him contemplating a cliff-hanger of a play-off in November, or worse. Hodgson’s new boss, Greg Dyke, the FA chairman, has intimated that he would stand by his manager in the event of the team failing to make the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil, but even his resolve might be tested.

It would not be international week without Hodgson having to face up to the usual injuries to key players and assorted other issues that are thrown the way of the England manager. In no particular order they have been Ashley Cole (rib), Jack Wilshere (lungs), Joe Hart (confidence) and Harry Redknapp’s autobiography (provocative, bordering on the dismissive).

In the serialisation of his book, Redknapp is at great pains to say that his criticism of the FA for overlooking him is not a potshot at Hodgson himself, although it is hard not to read it that way. “I wouldn’t trust the FA to show me a good manager if their lives depended on it,” is his opening salvo, later adding, “No disrespect to Roy, but I think we can all see that he is more of an FA man.”

This is the danger for Hodgson this week, that the narrative which has begun with Redknapp’s book blooms into something altogether more damaging. That Hodgson comes to be  regarded as the risk-averse England manager when his team most needed to go for the win, “the disciple of Charles Hughes” as Redknapp calls him, “the type that fits the bill”. There are some big calls to be made:

1) Where should he play Jack Wilshere?

Wilshere started both the qualifiers last month against Moldova and Ukraine, albeit in different roles. He was part of a tight midfield three with Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard against Moldova. For the 0-0 draw against Ukraine, with Danny Welbeck suspended, his role was changed, to that of the No 10 behind Rickie Lambert, and he struggled.

Hodgson might be tempted to go back to the original plan of Gerrard, Lampard and Wilshere. That would then require him to perm three from Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge, Welbeck and James Milner. Wilshere’s form has suffered from him being relocated to a wide position by Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger in recent games. Nevertheless, at least Hodgson has these options.

2) Just where does Daniel Sturridge fit in?

The in-form English striker, it feels like he has to play both games. His goal for Liverpool against Crystal Palace on Saturday was indicative of that. One could see Hodgson playing Sturridge as the centre-forward with Rooney just behind in a No 10 role. The Manchester United striker last played that position for Hodgson in the 1-1 draw with Poland last October. Since then, when Rooney has been available, he has been used as a lone striker or as part of a partnership.

Sturridge has not played since he injured his ankle against the Republic of Ireland in May, his only start for England in six caps. There is the option to play him wide, his less favoured position, but it has become clear since he joined Liverpool that you get the most out of Sturridge when he is deployed as an orthodox striker.

3) The Joe Hart question

Hodgson does not need a goalkeeper who is low on confidence and prone to errors at the moment, but that is what he is faced with and there will be no danger of him dropping the player, despite the criticism. Hart has had a rough time of it, but Hodgson is right to focus on the best his goalkeeper has to offer. Hart was exceptional against Brazil in the Maracana in June, especially the first half, and he has earned his manager’s loyalty.

Steve McClaren made the decision to drop Paul Robinson for that fateful game against Croatia in November 2007 after a mistake for the second Russian goal in England’s defeat in Moscow the previous month. Even then, Scott Carson had a friendly against Austria to prepare for what turned out to be that dreadful performance at Wembley five days’ later. If Hodgson wanted to change, there is no scope to ease in Fraser Forster or John Ruddy.

 4) The Baines effect

With Ashley Cole out the squad, and Kieran Gibbs called up as an understudy, this is the big chance for Leighton Baines. In many respects it takes a difficult decision out of the England manager’s hands. Baines’ early-season form has been excellent and there is the argument that  he offers a greater attacking threat than Cole. England need to win  these games.

In the absence of Glen Johnson and Theo Walcott, both injured, Hodgson will feel that his right side lacks experience. Kyle Walker stood in for Johnson in the previous two World Cup qualifiers last month, and Walcott started both those games. Again the balance is between keeping the game safe and chasing a victory.

5) How much can he risk?

Gary Neville’s Mail on Sunday column is always a good insight into the principles that Hodgson preaches to his players. Neville extolled the virtues of Bayern Munich’s hard work in closing down and squeezing their opposition, a tactic he said that was once a hallmark of the English game and has now been partly lost by an obsession with Barcelona-style levels of possession.

“What it is, is footballers with an intent to work their backsides off,” Neville wrote. Later he added: “If we think our identity is one of trying to keep 70 per cent possession in the game, that’s nonsense”. It made you wonder if Hodgson will opt for that fast, direct approach to keep Montenegro and Poland pinned back, possibly with Milner involved. How his team plays in these two games, as he will already know, will go a long way to defining the kind of manager he is.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments