Alright, I won’t start by lying to you. If there are any optimistic (for ‘optimistic’ read deluded!) West Brom or Tottenham fans reading this expecting to see a team full of their club ‘heroes’ then I’m afraid they will be disappointed. This is not the team for the kind of marker-losing, tackle-missing, can’t-keep-a-clean-sheet-to-save-their-managers-job kind of player that currently occupy those teams. This is for the elite; the best of the best and not wishing to follow Steve Clarke or Andre Villas Boas onto the managerial scrap heap I have tinkered with the formation this week. The following line up in a classic, attacking 4-4-2:
Goalkeeper: Alex McCarthy (Reading)
At the risk of repeating myself it’s no secret that England are not currently blessed with a great depth of goalkeeping talent. With Joe Hart continuing to experience a colder shoulder than Frosty the snowman, Ben Foster remaining on the side lines, Fraser Forster unable to reproduce his previous heroics in Barcelona and Jack Butland continuing his football education amongst the dearth of defensive talent at Barnsley the choice for this weeks number 1 pretty much came down to John Ruddy and Alex McCarthy. Personally I wish both of these keepers would receive more recognition on the international stage. I’ve gone for McCarthy this week due to another impressive clean sheet in Reading’s 1-0 away win at Huddersfield.
Right Back: Glen Johnson (Liverpool)
I don’t think I have made any secret of the fact that I’m a fan of youth. It’s not that I don’t see the value of experience, it’s just that I want our impressive young players to earn that experience as quickly as possible and therefore be able to implement it before they hit the age of 30 – you know, like the Germans do! As such, nothing would have made me happier than for Kyle Walker to express his undoubted quality and stand out as the long term solution at right back for England during Tottenham’s game with Liverpool this weekend. As it turns out, Glen Johnson appears to still be rather good. Pace, agility, trickery, creativity and defensive solidity were all on show from Johnson on Sunday and at 29 I guess I can just about accept the fact that he remains England’s best option at right back.
Centre Back: Phil Jones (Manchester United)
I wouldn’t imagine I’m alone in thinking that the sooner Jones cements his place at the heart of the Manchester United defence, the better it will be for all of us. Still only 21, Jones has all of the assets to be one of England’s great centre backs – he is quick, strong, uncompromising in the tackle and he reads the game well. If he can add consistency then I think you will see him playing centre half for England for the next decade at least. The clean sheet at Villa on Sunday will do him no harm. Lets hope he can retain his place in that defence and really hone his craft before Luis Suarez attempts to tear England a new one next summer!
Centre Back: Steven Caulker (Cardiff)
I would be willing to bet that there aren’t too many weekends when, if really given a choice, Steven Caulker would rather be in the Cardiff starting 11 than the Tottenham starting 11. However, this will have been one of them. Another strong performance from Caulker saw Cardiff keep a clean sheet and pick up a 1-0 victory which ultimately cost Steve Clarke his job. Still only 21 Caulker is another player who could potentially take advantage of the lack of stand-out operators for England at centre half.
Left Back: Luke Shaw (Southampton)
I’m a little bit surprised by the lack of attention being paid to the job Shaw is doing at Southampton. Yes he has been tentatively linked with the big money moves but in terms of analysis I can’t help but wonder if he is being slightly overlooked purely as a result of the depth of talent available to England at left back in the shape of Cole, Baines and Gibbs. At 18 Shaw is an integral part of one of the best defences in Europe. Southampton obtained another decent point at in-form Newcastle this weekend and Shaw rightly reclaims his spot at left back as a result.
Right Midfield: Theo Walcott (Arsenal)
It’s well known among the threelionsroar staff that I love Theo Walcott. Pace to burn, an unerring finisher – for me Walcott is a victim of the era he is playing in. Stick him up front with Alan Shearer and he would be plundering goals left right and centre. As it is, his slight frame makes him unsuitable for the lone striker role and he has to make do coming in off the wing. Never mind; two goals for Walcott marked his full comeback from injury. Slightly overshadowed by the damaging nature of Arsenal’s defeat but make no mistake, England will be needing a fully fit Theo Walcott in Brazil.
Central Midfield: Jordan Henderson (Liverpool) **STAR MAN**
Like so many others I watched mockingly from afar when Liverpool spent the best part of £20m on Jordan Henderson. In his first year at Liverpool he did little to disprove the doubters so it was with some disbelief that I watched him maraud around White Hart Lane on Sunday like a young Steven Gerrard. Everything about his game was exceptional; his movement, his distribution, the timing of his forward runs and the clinical volley that marked his goal in the game. It felt like a defining moment for Henderson and Liverpool. The question remains as to whether he could recreate that performance for England but on this showing he certainly deserves the opportunity to try.
Central Midfield: Tom Cleverly (Manchester United)
Unlike Jordan Henderson this is less a glowing endorsement of Tom Cleverly and hopefully more of a morale boosting recognition of a corner possibly turned. Cleverly (perhaps more than most) seems to have the belief of the England manager. In stature, club and position he is comparable to a young Paul Scholes; at times in ability too – at times. Cleverly is undoubtedly a talented player but he is still far too passive in too many games so it was good to see him play a more influential part against Villa at the weekend. The goal will have done him the world of good, now he needs to emerge as the reliable mainstay of a Manchester United midfield otherwise lacking leadership if he is to justify his selection among England’s elite next summer.
Left Midfield: Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)
Liverpool’s 5-0 thrashing of Tottenham at the weekend was, for me, one of the stand-out performances of this season so it is no surprise to find a third Reds player in the team this week. Sterling is still finding his feet at the top level in terms of consistency but he has already proven that on his day he is almost unplayable. He has that fantastic ability of the modern winger of being just as comfortable coming inside and making runs through the lines as he is when faced with a defender 1 on 1. He linked with Suarez exceptionally all afternoon and capped a fine performance with an assured finish for his goal. On this evidence Sterling is another one you can expect to see with three lions on his chest in the not too distant future.
Centre Forward: Gary Hooper (Norwich)
The only man to score in all professional English competitions, the SPL, the Europa League and Champions League Gary Hooper arrived in Norwich with a degree of expectation and with 4 premier league goals in 5 games it is expectation he is beginning to fulfil. The latest was a stunning dipping volley from fully 25 yards to earn Norwich a valuable point at home to Swansea this weekend. Any more like that and it surely won’t be long before Roy Hodgson is spotted in the vicinity of Carrow Road.
Centre Forward: Danny Welbeck (Manchester United)
Danny Welbeck is one of those players who just hasn’t quite convinced me yet. I see his quality in fits and starts but there have always been question marks about his goalscoring record. In his defence he strikes me as a forward who is all too often asked to do a job out wide. Nevertheless he took his chance in the absence of Van Persie this week and was in the right place at the right time to notch a brace, helping Manchester United on the way to a much needed 3-0 victory and justifying his selection next to Gary Hooper in the team of the week. Hopefully it is the start of much more to come!