Talking points: Roy Hodgson’s chance to experiment with England | Dominic Fifield

Friday’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Lithuania and the friendly in Italy are ideal opportunities for the manager to give Chris Smalling and Jack Butland a chance
• Rob Green and Danny Rose added to England squad

1) Having selected Harry Kane, play him

England would appear to be suddenly blessed with striking options, even with Daniel Sturridge’s involvement in serious doubt yet again. Danny Welbeck has contributed five goals in four Euro 2016 qualifiers and Wayne Rooney is the captain and therefore an automatic selection. Indeed, Roy Hodgson felt able to ignore the claims of Saido Berahino – the West Bromwich Albion striker is now also injured – Danny Ings and Charlie Austin and, instead, focused on the Premier League’s player of the moment. Harry Kane has been a revelation this season, his hat-trick against Leicester on Saturday having swollen his club tally to 29 in all competitions. There have been three further goals for the England Under-21s. He is a player in form, a striker capable either of leading the line with Rooney at his back or dropping slightly deeper with a runner ahead, and his claims to start both games cannot go ignored. Hodgson described Welbeck as his plan A after his double against Slovenia last November. “But I can’t give him a carte blanche forever,” he had added. “Other players might emerge.” Kane has done just that, with 19 of his club goals having come since England won in Scotland in mid-November. He has scored more Premier League goals, 14, than 13 top-flight teams have managed in 2015. While the 21-year-old will surely begin against Italy in the Turin friendly, why not start with him against Lithuania on Friday, too? Having picked him, play him.

2) Offer Chris Smalling the chance to play centre-back

The temptation will be to field older heads at the heart of the defence, with Gary Cahill likely to be flanked by Phil Jagielka in Friday’s competitive fixture, but this qualifying campaign seems like a prolonged opportunity to blood the next generation. Given John Stones has been retained by the under-21s, Hodgson’s younger options at centre-half are Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, players with 17 and 14 Premier League starts respectively for Manchester United this season. Each has had his moments but Smalling in particular has impressed in their excellent recent wins over Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool. The former United captain Bryan Robson likened the 25-year-old’s display against Spurs to those of Gary Pallister or Paul McGrath. “Chris is a good defender, and I’ve seen him improve over the last few games,” said the former England captain. “I even thought against Arsenal and Newcastle away, his passing was a lot better, a lot crisper, so he has come on to a good game and is in good form. McGrath could do that, and so could Pallister. When you keep possession at the back, it’s really important your defenders break past the forwards and get into midfield. I thought Chris did that particularly well against Tottenham.” The same might be needed if Lithuania seek to frustrate on Friday. Italy would provide a different kind of test, but restoring the partnership from last summer’s World Cup – which could not be described as a success – hardly seems progressive. Smalling offers something different.

3) Save the diamond for the friendly in Turin

England’s success in the autumn was built on the diamond, with Arsenal’s now injured Jack Wilshere operating at the base of midfield and effectively learning a new role on the job. The system reaped rewards, particularly with the win in Switzerland, and the presence of Michael Carrick in this squad would offer Hodgson the opportunity to replicate that formation in the two fixtures ahead. Yet operating with the diamond at Wembley might encourage a clogged-up, cluttered midfield when the home side need to stretch visitors whose ambitions will presumably be limited. England will need pace and width, and an eagerness to shift the ball quickly, which might prompt a tweak in the tactics. Carrick’s steadying influence as an anchorman might be better suited to confronting the Azzurri in next Tuesday’s friendly rather than the qualifying match against Lithuania on Friday.

4) Give keeper Jack Butland a cap against Italy

Jack Butland’s career has seemed to be on hold ever since he swapped Birmingham City for Stoke City a little over two years ago. The 22-year-old goalkeeper has not featured in the Premier League since a 1-0 defeat at Tony Pulis’ Crystal Palace in January 2014, one of only three topflight games in which he has played for Stoke. There have been loan spells at Leeds and Derby in the second tier since, as well as two Capital One Cup ties and three appearances in the FA Cup for his parent club, but Asmir Begovic’s excellence continues to leave him on the periphery at club level.The side where he most “belongs” are arguably the England Under-21s, for whom he has been capped 27 times and invariably impresses. He will presumably be back in their number for the summer’s European Championship but for now would it not be beneficial to play him against Italy to gain a second cap and offer a glimpse of a potential future? With Fraser Forster and Ben Foster injured and absent, Rob Green’s recall seems retrospective. The QPR player’s form has been excellent in a struggling side, but Butland has long been heralded as the team’s future beyond Joe Hart. It would be dispiriting if Hodgson passes up the chance to offer him a game, casting him back to the sidelines where he spends so much of his time at club level.

5) But ensure it isn’t entirely a shadow squad in Italy

Roy Hodgson began Monday with a 24-man England squad for the two internationals. Adam Lallana has since withdrawn, and Sturridge may follow suit, but the likelihood remains there will not be 22 players on the plane to Turin for the stern test against Italy. Senior personnel, from Hart to Rooney to Raheem Sterling (he has been struggling with a toe injury), may end up being withdrawn, with Hodgson having indicated a willingness to listen to the concerns of club managers when considering his squad for the two games just before Easter. But while some level of experimentation in terms of selection will inevitably take place in Turin, it would surely be more beneficial for Hodgson to play as close to his strongest England team, if only to gauge what progress has been made since the World Cup in Brazil. This is no time to concoct political deals with clubs.


Dominic Fifield

The GuardianTramp

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