A chilly autumn friendly against Germany at Wembley tonight provided an excellent opportunity for fringe players to play themselves in or out of contention for a spot at next year’s World Cup in Brazil. In truth, though, a patchy performance and second defeat in five days taught us little we didn’t already know about England’s prospects.
The greatest beneficiary of this international break has undoubtedly been Adam Lallana, with the Southampton midfielder showing energy, speed of thought and slick passing that should propel him above the pedestrian Tom Cleverley and industrious Jordan Henderson in the race to make the squad. In his post match press conference Hodgson described Lallana as “a major find”, and should he continue his excellent form at club level a seat on the plane seems likely.
There could yet be a midfield wildcard in the offing, with Ross Barkley and Ravel Morrison the most likely options, but Hodgson’s selection of Barkley for these internationals now seems a little pointless – there is little use in calling up a young player for two friendlies if you restrict him to fifteen-minute cameos. Barkley’s decision making on the ball must improve considerably, but this week has seen two wasted opportunities to assess his obvious ability in an England shirt.
Andros Townsend again showed glimpses of his talent, with a long-range effort thudding against the post, and although he is often reluctant to go on the outside of the defender, his game will continue to develop this season. Crucially, Townsend reaffirmed the belief that he offers Hodgson’s England something a little different – a verve and fearlessness when running with the ball that is lacking throughout the rest of the squad.
One player who needs to feel the fear is Daniel Sturridge. Again, Sturridge repeatedly attempted to do too much - regularly hogging the ball, slowing up attacks and failing to bring teammates in to play. Although Rickie Lambert offers an option from the bench when chasing games, he lacks the finesse to be a World Cup starter in the lone striker role. Hodgson was spiky when questioned about his team failing to register a shot on target tonight, but the paucity of attacking options available to him is a real worry.
At the back, one suspects the role Chris Smalling plays at club level this season will determine whether he usurps Gary Cahill to partner Phil Jagielka at the heart of the defence. Smalling was beaten to the ball by Per Mertesacker for Germany’s winner but coped relatively well otherwise against a German side content to play on the counter.
In other news, Steven Gerrard offered a threat from distance, Wayne Rooney linked up well in the hole, Joe Hart made some good saves before colliding with a teammate and the Germans won in the end. We’ve been here before.