England 3 Peru 0: Sturridge is England’s best striker... but does that mean the manager will pick him?

 

Wembley Stadium

Roy Hodgson has a decision to make. Does Daniel Sturridge’s brilliant goal, and all of the final-third threat that he embodies, necessarily warrant him a place in the starting XI?

It certainly sounds like a harsh question to pose about England’s opening goal-scorer here on Friday night, their only player who carries any threat. Sturridge, as one commentator pointed out, is the only man to score for England since last October.

The case for Sturridge’s inclusion in Manuas in two weeks’ time is simple and strong: he is England’s best goalscorer. He was the second top scorer in the Premier League this season, with 21, and the next best Englishman was Wayne Rooney with 17. Sturridge is gifted and in form, and England do not always go into tournaments with strikers of whom that can be said.

Sturridge underlined the case for himself last night in the most emphatic way possible, with the only moment of any quality in a dismal first-half. Glen Johnson threw the ball to him from the right hand side, on the edge of the box. Running diagonally away from the corner flag, towards the D, Sturridge held off the challenge from Yoshimar Yotun while staying far enough away from Alexander Callens.

Nothing looked remotely on but Sturridge is a footballer of rare audacity and he saw what no one else did, a route from his left boot to the far top corner of Raul Fernandez’s net. He executed it perfectly, and by the time Fernandez realised, the ball was arcing beyond him and into the goal.

 

It was a goal out of nothing, which is precisely what they needed, having created far too much nothing for the first 33 minutes. If England were a thrillingly fast, creative, imaginative side, the type of team everyone would like them to be, they might not need a player like Sturridge, who can create chances for himself out of the smallest gap. But they are not, so they do.

Despite all that, there will still be some doubters who wonder whether Sturridge is the right man to start at the point of their formation in Manaus on 14 June.

Sturridge was a threat early on, trying to dart into whatever space he could find, behind Peru’s deep-lying back four. He found England’s best early chance when Adam Lallana ran through tackles in the inside-right channel. Sturridge picked up the ball in the box but whipped his right-footed shot just beyond the far post. He nearly received a chip forward from Rooney but it was just beyond him.

All eyes are on the shot by Daniel Sturridge as it curls past the Peru keeper for England’s opener All eyes are on the shot by Daniel Sturridge as it curls past the Peru keeper for England’s opener
In the second half Sturridge was quieter but he did produce some sharp footwork while always keeping the Peruvian defenders busy, before coming off to warm applause with eight minutes left.

Read more:
England 3 Peru 0: Player ratings
England 3 Peru 0: No dark thoughts for Hodgson as warm-up acts pass auditions
England 3 Peru 0: Sturridge is England’s best striker... but does that mean the manager will pick him?
FA drops Gary Barlow's official England 2014 World Cup song from starting line-up  

The problem for Sturridge is that Rooney, whom he out-shone last night, is unlikely to be dropped, despite what Hodgson said this week. Rooney could quite plausibly be England captain by the end of the summer and it is hard to conceive of any England team without him.

Rooney, in theory, can operate as either a No 10 or a No 9, leaving England with two plausible options: a pairing of Rooney and Sturridge, or leaving Rooney up front by himself. Against some opposition – such as Costa Rica, in England’s third game – the pairing of Rooney and Sturridge would be preferable.

England start with their two hardest games, though, against Italy and Uruguay. Against Italy, especially, in the heat of the rainforest, they will need to find a way to stop Andrea Pirlo from dictating the game. If Pirlo can force England to chase the game, they will melt away.

That will be a different game from this, but Hodgson might well wonder on the flight to Miami whether the combination of Rooney and Sturridge is the best way to disrupt the 2006 winners. He might decide that England need the extra man in midfield, that they cannot afford, in the sweltering heat, to be outnumbered in the middle of the pitch.

Should he decide it, there would be a case for putting Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere, James Milner or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at the point of a three-man midfield, allowing him to match Italy up and keep a foothold in the game.

The problem with this is that it only allows for one centre-forward, with two men either side of him. In a straight choice between Rooney and Sturridge, Hodgson’s instincts must be to go with the 28-year-old, especially given his World Cup experience and defensive contribution.

This might be unfair on Sturridge. He has been playing better than Rooney for most of the last 18 months. Sturridge was dangerous and scored England’s opener, Rooney did not.

And yet Hodgson’s job is to pick the best team, not the best players, and he might still be wondering how best to use Sturridge in Manaus. More goals in Miami might help.

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