World Cup 2014: England Preview - Three Lions overdue a global roar?

Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United & Southampton all represented as England look to deliver a best finish since Euro '96.

Unencumbered by the traditional jingoistic over-hyping of the national team by the English press, Roy Hodgson's Three Lions head into the FIFA World Cup tournament with realistic expectations - for once - and relatively minimal scandals.

Regardless of the perception over Hodgson's focus on defensive shape, England have an exciting squad - underlined by the fact that it is he out of all the World Cup managers who has taken the most Under-21 players - as the so-called Golden Generation has been disbanded in favour of younger, faster and more dynamic selection.  

The Perception

Choke-specialists from spot-kicks, route-one focused with a fear and loathing for on-the-floor aesthetically-pleasing football, England have a somewhat unfitting perception when it comes to strategy and ability in cup competition.

The Reality

The fact that Luke Shaw - one of the two youngest players at this World Cup - was chosen over Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard is consigned to a bench role, is demonstrative of Hodgson's confidence in moving the English national football team away from past failures and into a future that will certainly contain some of the talents looking to make a name for themselves this summer.

The 4-4-2, with a big-man/little-man axis at the top and a Steven Gerrard and Lampard debate in the middle of the park, has finally been left in the past, as the nation now has a selection headache for the spearheading role in a 4-2-3-1 set-up. Hodgson enjoys fast wingers and so players like Danny Welbeck and impact player Raheem Sterling could be key.

What is interesting about this England squad is that there is a Plan A - the starters from the Peru warm-up at Wembley Stadium and a Plan B - Sterling, Ross Barkley, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and even Luke Shaw - all of whom are capable of changing a game. England's bench is stronger than it has been, there is depth and Hodgson has clear options.


Scouting England as opponents would probably be quite tricky for Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica. Against Germany at the tail-end of last year, when Hodgson's Lions lost 1-0 at Wembley, four of those who started have not even made the trip to South America (Kyle Walker, Cole, Andros Townsend and Tom Cleverley), while another will not start (Chris Smalling). This is a new England.  


What do you do with Wayne Rooney? He has to start, but where? Sturridge must lead the line, leaving the no.10 role an option, yet Rooney is not a no.10. There is also a lack of quality cover at centre back… if one of Gary Cahill or Phil Jagielka is struck by injury, then Hodgson is forced to play one of two Manchester United defenders who have regressed at Old Trafford - Chris Smalling and Phil Jones.

Star Player

It doesn't take much for the English media to get carried away, but the coming-of-age of Sturridge has seemingly gone under-reported around the world and the Liverpool striker could be the dark striking horse of the tournament.

Much of the overshadowing of Sturridge may have been due to his attack partner at Anfield being the far 'sexier' player - Luis Suarez - when it came to shifting copy, but when noting Sturridge's statistics (scores a goal or returns an assist every 81 minutes) he could be a legitimate difference-maker in every single game. 

Non Premier League players will have benefited from a winter break, but Sturridge did not have to play any mid-week European football for Liverpool. He is not only a threat from attacking areas, but should, in theory, also be fresh - unlike players like Eden Hazard, Yaya Toure and Mesut Ozil, who have competed on multiple fronts throughout the season.

  TeamTouch /AppDribble /AppChance CreatedAssistShot AccShots /AppGoalAppMin
Sturridge Liverpool 39.21 3.03 29 7 42.4% 3.41 21 29 2,275

One To Watch

Against Ecuador, Ross Barkley demonstrated his ability to influence the game with what seemed like every touch he had on the football. He is multi-paced, tricky to mark and returned an assist against the South Americans. Along with Sterling, Barkley is a legitimate impact player and may well be promoted from starting from the bench to starting on the field within one or two games.

  TeamTouch /AppPass AccChance CreatedDribble /AppShot AccShot /AppGoalAppMin
Barkley Everton 51.74 85.0% 26 3.76 24.4% 2.29 6 34 2,286


A positive result against Italy in Manaus on Saturday is a mandatory requirement - and achievable. It could have a draw, goal-less or score-draw, written all over it as Italy lack quality behind Mario Balotelli and, if Hodgson is able to conjure up a plan that prevents Andrea Pirlo from dictating play from deep then the Azzurri may be rendered impotent.

The trickiest fixture for England was always going to be Uruguay as a combination of Edinson Cavani and Suarez can cause genuine problems. It is perhaps unfortunate that England's (on-paper) easiest match was scheduled last, against Costa Rica, but if the Three Lions can roar through their group, then a Round of 16 clash against one of Colombia or the Cote d'Ivoire - both of whom are, perhaps, not as tough as Italy or Uruguay. 

A quarter-final place should be the aim… a semi-final would be an over-achievement and worth celebrating.

Predicted Line-Up

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