Football Comment: Hodgson should test first-choice defence in Italy

Trevor Steven
Follow Trevor
ENGLAND could hardly be in better form, after a fifth Euro 2016 qualifying win in a row on Friday against Lithuania, as they head to Turin for tomorrow’s prestige friendly with Italy.

Their record in the current campaign is unmatched throughout the continent and you have to give credit to the players and, in particular, manager Roy Hodgson.

The squad seems to be happy, not least captain Wayne Rooney, who looks more content than he ever has in an England shirt – and probably happier than he has been at Manchester United lately.

What is pleasing is that the confidence gained from this winning run is starting to show. At any level, victories make you feel good about yourself and the setbacks a little easier to brush off.

Italy represent a far sterner test than the likes of Lithuania, however, and the sort of examination that England’s goalkeeper and defence collectively have precious little of outside major finals.

For that reason I’d really like to see Roy pick Joe Hart and his first choice back four tomorrow. There aren’t that many games between now and Euro 2016 and even fewer against decent opposition.

The centre-backs and the space in front of them has long been England’s achilles heel, so we need to see the men likely to start the tournament put under pressure together – at least for 45 minutes.

Hodgson has to be a little careful with Hart. Injuries mean it’s not clear who would step in should the No1 get hurt, so it’s probably wise to audition a deputy in the second half.

Further forward it’s less important who plays, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ross Barkley in midfield and Theo Walcott and Andros Townsend in wide positions.

Tottenham striker Harry Kane, having marked his debut off the bench on Friday with a goal, must start, with Rooney behind him.

Roy needs to get an idea of how Kane fares against better opponents and what problems he can cause a team with a strong defensive tradition like Italy.

England have been fortunate to get their qualifier out of the way first and bag the points. Now they can enjoy the occasion, experiment with new partnerships such as Rooney and Kane and see who rises to the occasion.

Trevor Steven is a former England international who has played at two World Cups and two European Championships. He now works as a media commentator.