Football Comment: Who has emerged as Roy Hodgson’s preferred England XI? This is my view

Trevor Steven
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Rooney was back to his hungry, dynamic form of old against Scotland and appears to relish the leadership he has with England
ENGLAND’S win over Scotland on Tuesday marks the end of their 2014 campaign and marks a good time to reflect on the state of Roy Hodgson’s team today. Who would be in his first XI, if everyone were fit, and how would they play? This is my view.

Fraser Forster, who played in this week’s win at Celtic Park, has made a terrific start to the season with Southampton and has finally provided Joe Hart with the realistic competition to be England’s No1 that I think he needs and thrives on. I like to see a settled team, though, and need to be convinced of a player’s merit before chopping and changing, and for now I think Hodgson is still behind Hart.

Kieran Gibbs is good and I truly believe that Luke Shaw will be England’s left-back in around 18 months’ time, once he has settled in at Manchester United, because he is so good in possession, but Leighton Baines currently ticks more boxes – he’s quick, uses the ball intelligently, takes free-kicks and penalties – than his younger rivals.

Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka are certainties: mainstays who are used to playing together and who lack realistic competition. Until Chris Smalling and Phil Jones start to play regularly you can’t say they are real contenders. I’m surprised Hodgson seems to have dispensed with Glen Johnson at right-back, as he is the best going forward, understands the back four well and mature. Although he still lacks experience, Nathaniel Clyne has shown promise and seems to be the favoured heir to Johnson, over Kyle Walker.

I don’t think we should get too attached to the idea of a diamond midfield, despite recent success. I think Hodgson’s XI would line up in a 4-4-1-1 that could quickly switch to being a 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-4-1. Germany’s brilliant World Cup-winning midfield didn’t just have one role each; they rotated. I’d like to think England have intelligent enough players to do the same – Roy just needs to get that across and make them believe they’re good enough.

As he showed in the last two games, Jack Wilshere is maturing all the time, and if he bursts forward then Jordan Henderson can tuck in. I’ve always liked Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and I think Hodgson does too. He’s intelligent and has an exciting mix of ability, teamwork and reading of the game. Adam Lallana is another clever player whose ability to ghost into space, as he did to set up Wayne Rooney’s second against Scotland, reminds me a little of Martin Peters. Raheem Sterling is an outrageous individual talent but still needs to learn how to be consistent and, on form, I don’t think he would start if everyone was fit.

Wayne’s goals in Glasgow were good old vintage Rooney: a result of hungry, dynamic play. Not many would have mustered that header for his first of the evening and he is currently playing better for England, where he is a leader, than he is for Manchester United. There is no question over his place but the other position is more tricky. Danny Welbeck has thrived in Daniel Sturridge’s absence to the extent that he is joint top-scorer across Europe in Euro 2016 qualifying. Sturridge is more likely to make things happen but you can’t ignore the power and pace of Welbeck. Right now, he and Rooney are England’s best partnership, but if Welbeck has a bad game I think Sturridge would be straight back in.

Trevor Steven is a former England international footballer who now works as a media commentator.