Roy Hodgson already had a few tough decisions to make regarding his World Cup squad for the upcoming tournament in Brazil, but one was made for him - in rather cruel circumstances it ought to be said - when Jay Rodriguez crumpled to the Etihad turf on Saturday.
Immediately, there was a collective gasp around the stadium, from both sets of fans. It looked a nasty one. So it proved, with the news filtering through yesterday that Rodriguez had sustained a ruptured anterior cruciate knee ligament.
The injury came as a savage blow to Hodgson, England and Southampton but, most of all, Rodriguez.
The former Burnley striker had been enjoying his finest season in front of goal on the south coast and, despite an inauspicious debut for the international team against Chile, he refused to let it bother him and continued doing what he does best, scoring goals.
It will never be known whether or not Hodgson would have taken Rodriguez who, for all of his obvious qualities, did look somewhat like a rabbit in the headlights during his maiden outing on the Wembley stage.
Let that not detract from what has been a wonderful season for the 24-year-old who, plainly put, has been a revelation for Mauricio Pochettino's side, but it may have played on the mind of Hodgson, as he ponders his fourth-choice striker.
Inundated with flankers and with Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck all firmly established as the first three choices for the striking berth, Hodgson now has to pick from another trio to make up his forward line.
The fourth of those choices in Rodriguez has been agonisingly torn away from him at the last but he still has a sum that doesn't work out, with three having to be converted into one in time for his 23-man squad announcement.
Working on his most recent squad, one which saw off Denmark in an international friendly 1-0, Hodgson still has Rickie Lambert, who scored during the qualification campaign, and Jermain Defoe firmly in his thoughts but the latter may be at an immediate disadvantage by the fact he is now plying his trade in the MLS with Toronto FC.
Whether or not it counts against the pint-sized striker in the final reckoning remains to be seen but he certainly offers something to the party, given his finishing prowess in the penalty area.
Another achilles heel for Defoe's credentials fall in the fact he is the polar opposite to both Lambert and the wildcard option in Andy Carroll.
Carroll provides the brawn and physical presence Defoe lacks but also weighs in with slightly more experience than Lambert having amassed nine caps to the Southampton man's four, while he also formed part of Hodgson's Euro 2012 squad.
On the flip side, however, Carroll has not been pictured in an England shirt since October 2012, in the 1-1 draw with Poland during the qualification campaign, owing to a heel injury which has kept him sidelined for a prolonged period.
Below is a table of statistics outlining just who does what best amongst the trio and Rodriguez is thrown in to show his retrospective worth to the Three Lions this summer.
Most notable amongst the numbers is the Southampton duo's clear presence of mind in front of goal, with Rodriguez scoring 0.45 per game, whilst Lambert offers 0.34, both upgrades on the totals of Carroll (0.20) and Defoe (0.07).
Likewise, the stats read favourably for conversion rate when big chances arrive at the feet of Rodriguez and Lambert, who register 0.30 and 0.28 big chances, while Carroll and Defoe pale by comparison with 0.10 and 0.07.
Where Carroll, in particular, comes into his own though, is his ability to create for others. It may well be a facet to his game that Hodgson chooses to focus on and feels could be valuable in Brazil.
The West Ham man posts 0.40 goal assists per appearance. His closest competitor in this field is Lambert, who himself boasts the physical attributes to win headers and provide layoffs for team-mates. His total comes in at 0.31, while fellow Saints man Rodriguez is way down with 0.09 and Defoe's reputation for playing more for himself than others is reflected in the fact he has none.
Defoe largely relied on coming on from the bench, a big factor in his reasoning for a move to the MLS, during his final season at White Hart Lane, so it should be hardly surprising that his overall scoring attempts each match is a lowly 1.43.
Carroll, however, attempts to subvert from that trend. He has made the least appearances of the quartet with 10 and yet has still managed 2.8 attempts per appearance, a figure that beats both Defoe and even Lambert (2.69).
Rodriguez is out in front with 3.06, but his conversion rate in this sense comes in at a rather surprising 31.7% having hit the target 0.97 times per outing.
Lambert fares marginally better with 39.4%, while Carroll's 28.6% shows his strengths lie ostensibly elsewhere.
Defoe's shortcomings have already been laid out for all to see but he does at least prevail in this category, having hit the target with 39.8% of his efforts on goal.
The trends that have emerged already follow the same pattern in the big chances missed category, with Rodriguez (0.18) and Defoe (0.21) proving sharper shooters than Lambert (0.22) and Carroll (0.40) per appearance.
The same can be said of the quartet's fortunes in the air. The two strikers more commonly associated with playing on the last line of defence - Rodriguez and Defoe - have 38.2% and 13.1% success rates respectively, Lambert scores a commendable 41.4%, while Carroll's central strength is clear when you consider his total of 61.2%.
Each have their pros and cons but for the all-round package, plus the fact he boasts a faultless penalty record - something England could come to rely on - Lambert stands out amongst the crowd in his attempts to replace his Southampton team-mate, who deserved a place in the squad but for the bitterest of injury blows.
Lambert, alongside Adam Lallana, can transfer Southampton's tremendous season to the World Cup and keep Rodriguez alive in thought, if not presence.
|Player||Team||Pos||Goals / apps||Big Chance Scored / apps||Goal Assist / apps||Total Scoring Att / apps||Ontarget Scoring Att / apps||Big Chance Missed / apps||Aerial Won / apps||Aerial Lost / apps||Apps||Mins|
|Andy Carroll||West Ham||FW||0.20||0.10||0.40||2.80||0.80||0.40||8.50||5.40||10||673|