World Cup 2014: Danny Welbeck at centre of Roy Hodgson’s plan to deal with Italy

The England manager is a huge fan of the Manchester United striker

England’s Danny Welbeck is at the centre of a tailored game-plan for his side’s World Cup opener against Italy which has been under preparation for weeks and which places him ahead of Raheem Sterling in Roy Hodgson’s scheme to deal with Cesare Prandelli’s team.

Hodgson is a huge Welbeck fan and decided weeks ago on a specific tactical plan for him – based on the fact that he is far more capable of winning possession of the ball than Sterling. The England manager also knows that Welbeck  has enough pace to damage Italy on the counter-attack. Though Sterling’s greater ingenuity and unpredictable style of play could make him a more significant player as Group D progresses, a subtly different emphasis against Italy – the game which could dictate England’s fate for the rest of the tournament – means the Manchester United player is the more important cog tomorrow.

Hodgson, who believes that the match against Italy is “Welbeck’s game”, was dealt a huge boost yesterday afternoon when the 23-year-old shrugged off fitness doubts to train with the squad in  a gymnasium session. He had missed Wednesday’s training session with the tight hamstring which saw him limp off from England’s Rio training pitch on Tuesday. Hodgson’s desire is for the United forward to start on the left but come inside to put pressure on Daniele De Rossi – and ideally take the ball off him, stifling a key supply line for the Italians.

It had been initially thought Welbeck’s job would be to thwart the passing capability of Andrea Pirlo. But Pirlo may be used in a more advanced role by Prandelli, with De Rossi operating in the deeper, more defensive position. “We are trying new solutions,” Pirlo said.

In the fluid game which tomorrow’s fixture may turn out to be, Welbeck could also be asked to quell Pirlo’s ability to thread dangerous passes, too. But if Pirlo is operating further forward it will be Jordan Henderson who picks him up . The Liverpool midfielder is likely to sit in a deep position alongside captain Steven Gerrard in a central midfield two, poised to deter Pirlo if he is playing in a more advanced role. Gerrard has told Hodgson about the energy levels which enable his Liverpool team-mate Henderson to work in both boxes.

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Some will view Welbeck as a less attractive option for another journey of discovery for the England team. But Hodgson’s confidence that Welbeck can achieve the task set for him is based on the manager’s deep appreciation of his work ethic. Some of the England coaching staff actually feel that Welbeck is better as a wide player than he is an out-and-out front-man.

If  Welbeck stays fit, it would appear Adam Lallana and Welbeck will operate wide of Henderson and Gerrard, while Wayne Rooney will play behind Daniel Sturridge. Sterling has impressed Hodgson and it is possible he will start in the Amazon tomorrow, too. But that is more likely to be at the expense of Lallana.

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