England play their final home match before the World Cup this week with Roy Hodgson hoping Friday's friendly against Peru will show his preparations are on the right track. After a weekend off following last week's training camp in Portugal the squad’s build-up moves into the second stage on home soil tomorrow at St George's Park.
Hodgson is planning a more intense series of training sessions than on the Algarve, where he was limited by the need to allow players' bodies to recover from a long season. Peru provide South American opposition similar to that England will encounter when they face Uruguay in Sao Paulo and the emphasis in training is likely to be on how to deal with a Latin tempo of play.
While the media and public will be expecting England to head off across the Atlantic for their final training camp in Miami with a win behind them Hodgson is more focused on the performance.
“The most important thing is a good footballing team performance,” he said earlier this week at the team’s Vale Do Lobo base. “We are not extrapolating from it and saying 'if we did this against Peru that will mean when Italy come up, or Uruguay come up, that will lead to this'. I don't believe in that. What I do believe is if the team play well, and we see good defensive work or attacking work, that will stand us in good stead; if we don't see it and big problems are highlighted we better get down to work straight away afterwards.
"There will be a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of people wanting to play in that game. I have 25 players who will be putting their hand up saying 'pick me', 'pick me, I want to play'. It would be nice if we could get some playing time for everybody in the three warm-up games [England will play Ecuador and Honduras in Miami]. Whether it is achievable is another matter.“
Hodgson is unsure as to whether he will play a 'first XI' in any of the matches, or indeed if he will have a 'first XI' as such. ”There’s so much competition for places at the moment that it would be very bold of me to say, ‘this is my best team’. Especially in those front positions there’s an awful lot of talent. At the back I suppose people might argue there’s more chance of suggesting a settled goalkeeper and back four. But around Steven Gerrard as a fixed point in midfield there are so many possibilities that whatever team I pick there’ll be people looking at the bench that day and saying, ‘I’d have picked him instead’.
But that’s good, because that hasn’t always been the case. I think you need more than 1-11. You need that bench, so that when you look along it you see players you can send on when things aren’t going so good. You want to be excited by what you see, to think: ‘I’ll put him on, because he might change something'. I think we’ve got that this year. With respect to the Euro 2012 group, I don’t think we had it to anywhere near the same extent.“
One player to whom this applies is Raheem Sterling who had not even started a first team match at the time of Euro 2012. Now he is not only coming off the back of a fine season for Liverpool, but shown he can play centrally as well as on the flanks.
Asked if he could he play there for England Hodgson said: “Oh yes. I’ve got a fairly naïve attitude to that – if you’re playing at the top, top level in the Premier League, any position you play, you can do it for your national team. I don’t believe there’s some mystical barrier.”
Sterling himself said of the central role he filled to such effect late in the season, “It was a newish position for me and I adapted to it. I think [Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers] put me there to move the ball quicker. Sometimes I used to be on the ball too long and when that happens [in the centre], someone might smash you. I played there when I was younger at QPR, just behind the striker and I quite like it.”
Hodgson added that Sterling was one of several versatile players. “You could mention Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. You could talk about James Milner who usually plays wide but I’ve seen him have some very good games centrally for Manchester City. Jordan Henderson started off the season for Liverpool in a wider position before moving centrally. As for Adam Lallana, I’d defy anybody to pin him down to a particular position because even during the course of games I’ve seen him play a period of time in one position then move to another. It is a beauty of the squad, I think. It is an advantage. It does give us a flexibility we can benefit from.”