Over the weekend, we saw two age old rivalries set in motion- the timeless derbies between North London’s Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, and Merseyside’s Everton playing out a lacklustre draw with cross city rivals Liverpool. But it was one of the 3pm kick-offs which held a little more significance from the England fan’s point of view- QPR’s defeat at the hands of Southampton (seriously). Whilst QPR losing is hardly an unexpected phenomenon, what set this game apart was the appearance of England manager Roy Hodgson, who hot-footed it from Tottenham’s 2-1 win at White Hart Lane to make the short journey across London to watch the eternally disappointing Rangers lose to a late Saido Mane goal at Loftus Road. Undoubtedly, he is looking for the next striker he wants to lead his team in next month’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Lithuania on the 27th March. So here are my ten possible players who could be made to lead the line against Lithuania, and the later friendly with Italy, and measure their long-term England chances.
1: Wayne Rooney
Current England and Manchester United captain, and living proof of the saying ‘money can’t buy you a natural looking hairline.’ Will probably be deployed as a second striker or ‘in the hole,’ behind a faster player. Dependable, if not a reliable scorer, and has never, for England, lived up to his early expectation, but is still only 29, with at least 2 tournaments left in him. Ever present for Eriksson, McClaren, Capello and Hodgson, and part of the so-called Golden Generation of the 2010 World Cup. Expect him to start.
2: Daniel Sturridge
Started the two games that mattered in Brazil, and scoring a great controlled volley against Italy. Came back raring to go after an excellent season at Anfield, and shone in Liverpool’s 3-0 dismantling of Tottenham, but succumbed to injury during England duty and didn’t come back until the New Year, scoring on his return. Will be fully fit and raring to go in a month’s time, fingers crossed, and will probably get the nod to start in the centre of a 4-3-3 formation, where his natural pace and positioning will be best used, with England’s tendency to smash the ball along the penalty area.
Likelihood- 9/10 (depending on injuries
3: Harry Kane
The 21-year old started the season as a back-up striker for Europa League games, but has become a key player in a Spurs side that will take great pride in being above Arsenal for now. Has 12 goals in the Premier League this season, including 2 against Arsenal and a stellar performance against Chelsea on New Year’s Day. Is he England’s saviour? Well, he seems to be in the same mold as Andy Carroll- powerful, strong header, good placement, and calm under pressure. But will need to demonstrate constant improvement on a solid debut season. Expect him to be taken to the Qualifiers, and, if he keeps improving, to France as well. I think he’ll probably be on the bench, as England aren’t assured qualification yet, and there’s plenty of time for him in the later stages of qualifying, especially with England in such an easy group.
4: Danny Welbeck
He’s had a whelming debut season so far for Arsenal, even with injury, scoring a Champions League hat trick against Galatasaray, but only a return of four Premier League goals, though goals were never the biggest part of his game, even at United. His tireless running, exceptional tracking back and immaculate haircut makes him a favourite of Hodgson. Usually plays on the right wing, where he can run at full backs and cover the incompetent Glen Johnson. Expect him to keep that position his until at least the next Euros.
5: Saido Berahino
Had a brilliant debut season last year with West Brom, a great solo effort against Manchester United being a crowning moment, but has had ideas above his station this campaign, which was fine with the overwhelmed Alan Irvine, but frowned upon, like most other things, by Tony Pulis. Probably won’t play unless one of the above gets injured. He’s a player that interests me, having played in England’s U-21 squad, but until he sorts out his priorites and proves his commitment, I don’t think he’ll be part of the England set-up. Having said that, a big money move to a Europa League team isn’t far beyond the realms of possibility, having scored nine goals this season in the Premier League.
6: Charlie Austin
It causes me serious psychological pain when I close my eyes and see a QPR striker leading the line for England, but that was probably what Roy Hodgson was at Loftus Road for. Has shown moments of real quality, scoring 13 goals this season, more than any other English player, and has particularly wowed the palpable crowd in West London with acrobatic finishing and instant improvisation. If QPR do indeed go down, surely he won’t go to the Championship with them? I wouldn’t be surprised to see him play some part in the Lithuania game, but Hodgson will undoubtedly go with his tried and tested set-up for Italy.
7: Andy Carroll
Led the line fairly well at Euro 2012, and has returned from a forgettable spell with Liverpool and a couple of injury plagued seasons to play a key role in West Ham’s daring charge for 8th. A little one-dimensional, and probably won’t get much of a chance over the strikers mentioned. Might be a good back-up player in Hodgson’s squad, but neither dependable nor prolific, and won’t come up with a moment of magic when the chips are down. That ponytail has also been irritating me for seven years.
8: Danny Ings
Was linked with Liverpool in January, which is generally a fast-track to Hodgson’s England team, but it wasn’t to be. Same as Austin, I doubt whether he has the quality to play internationals for England. Also, is much more natural as a creator at Burnley, rather than the sole striker, and will probably stay there if they do go down. I don’t expect him to have much of a say for England in the future.
9: Rickie Lambert
Was taken to Brazil on the back of a few good seasons for Southampton, but even then was too old and slow to really have any impact. Has been in indifferent form for Liverpool this season, as was expected, and will probably never get another England chance.
Wild card- 10: Raheem Sterling
One of Brendan Rodger’s most important success stories. Has played as a false nine for a large chunk of the season in the absence of Daniel Sturridge and the virtual absence of Mario Balotelli. Has already played in a number of positions for England, but I don’t assume he’ll displace Rooney in the central attacking role like he did against Italy last summer. Hodgson maybe tempted to use him in the same role as Cesc Fabregas played for Spain in 2012, but finishing isn’t really one of his strengths, and England he is much better used on the wing in tandem with Sturridge, where the two’s natural pace and mental connection can be best exploited.
Likelihood 3/10 striker, 10/10 left wing