Italy vs England preview: Roy Hodgson to experiment with Phil Jones in midfield while Harry Kane joins Theo Walcott in attack

Kane given his first England start as Rooney drops deeper for Italy friendly

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The Independent Football

Roy Hodgson is preparing a radically different England line-up against Italy here on Tuesday evening with Phil Jones in holding midfield and Theo Walcott partnering Harry Kane in attack, on the occasion of the Tottenham Hotspur striker’s first start for his country.

It would also mean Wayne Rooney starting behind Kane and Walcott at the tip of the diamond-shaped midfield, which has proved successful for England in their post-World Cup overhaul. Rooney has played as a striker ever since Brazil, where he was moved around the team during the World Cup finals to accommodate Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling.

With a depleted 20-man squad for the game at Juventus Stadium, Hodgson said that the match was an opportunity to experiment with players, although the only two starters whom he would confirm were Rooney and Kane. Should he go ahead and pick Walcott in his first XI, it would be the first time the Arsenal man has started for England since the 2014 World Cup qualifier against Ukraine in September 2013.

Jones has played in holding midfield for England before, in their 1-0 win over Spain at Wembley in November 2011 under Fabio Capello. He played just the first half before being replaced by Jack Rodwell and, while it was not considered an unqualified success, he acquitted himself reasonably well.

Even against an Italy team missing a number of key players, the game in Turin will be another tough examination of Jones’ credentials in a position he rarely plays in at Manchester United. In the Italy team Antonio Conte announced at his press conference there was no place for Marco Verratti, the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder.

Hodgson said that his side’s system would be “slightly different” from the one used against Lithuania in the 4-0 win on Friday. “That’s required because we had a lot of front players available for Lithuania, but we lost two of them in Raheem Sterling and Danny Welbeck.

Phil Jones has played the holding role for England once before – against Spain in 2011 (Getty)

“We still have what I consider to be a very offensive line-up. It’ll be hard work for those players in the front area, the front six, who have a hard job on their hands. They have a very well-worked system, the Italians, and they will have us running around a little bit.”

Hodgson will try to use Ross Barkley from the bench and, given he has limited options in midfield, Andros Townsend and Ryan Mason are candidates to get some playing time in the second half. The England team did not train in Turin before the game, arriving in the early evening and taking a 10-minute walk on the pitch.

While Hodgson confirmed his captain Rooney was starting the game, he would not be drawn on the specifics of where the United man would be playing. “We might do something a bit different. I’m pleased for them both. Harry Kane, it’s a fairy tale at the moment. It doesn’t get much better than a debut goal. It’ll be tougher test [against Italy], but he’ll start. Hopefully, he will play a large part in it.”

England have three further high-profile friendlies planned after tonight’s game. They take on France at home and Spain away in November and also Germany away next March.