Roy Hodgson is considering playing Raheem Sterling as his team’s No 10 playmaker, having deployed the teenager in that position for England’s entire behind-closed-doors training session today.
The England manager has more injury concerns, however, after the Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck was forced out of the session with a thigh injury. He has been playing with his right thigh strapped and that is a concern for the England manager with his team’s first World Cup game against Italy in Manaus three days away.
Once again Hodgson said that Sterling was “very much” in his mind for the first match. “If I select him, it won’t be a risk that he hasn’t played so many minutes. And if I don’t select him, it certainly won’t be because he has only played 39 minutes [in the last five weeks],” he said.
The prospect of Sterling occupying the playmaker role has been raised more than once by Hodgson, who had hoped to play him there against Honduras on Saturday before the player was suspended for the game. It shows just how highly he rates the player that Sterling could yet get that job despite having played so little for England.
The England squad practised the dreaded penalties for the first time since arriving in Brazil for the World Cup but did so without a goalkeeper – instead they aimed at targets in the goal.
They practised at the end of the session with a specially designed net stretched across the goalposts. The net featured five target holes, one in each corner and another in the centre. Hodgson stood by the goal on this occasion and the players had to elect which target they were aiming for before they took the penalty.
Of course, England have to get out of Group D first to reach the knockout stage before penalties become a consideration. Earlier Hodgson said: “We haven’t got down to thinking, ‘Who will the five be?’ But it’s not a difficult decision when the time comes because we know who takes penalties for their clubs. It’s an easy thing to do [to select them]. You don’t need three weeks of preparation for that.”
The injury to Welbeck is a worry, given that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is already out the Italy game. Hodgson said that the Arsenal man could be back to face Uruguay in eight days’ time. “It looks very unlikely that we’ll replace him [in the squad],” he said. “He is certainly working very hard and I don’t think he could be further forward in terms of his progression than he is now. He’s well up there.”