They say there are no ‘easy’ games in international football, I tend to agree except when facing San Marino (oh and Andorra) and England did the job last Friday night with a world cup qualifying win against the minnows. Now the real work begins as a defensively inexperienced side head to Podgorica for a crucial match on Tuesday.
Firstly I just want to say before people get arrogant (always the case) this qualifier is crucial, unfortunately now we do not have the right to think we are definite qualifiers for tournaments. I feel with our best players we have a great chance but when there are injuries that’s where I worry.
Now with all the the Rio furore, injuries to Dawson and Cahill, our central defensive partnership looks, being harsh, weak. Not necessarily the players but I defy anyone to have picked the likely partnership of Smalling and Lescott being the first choice of Roy Hodgson for this match when the fixtures were decided. Don’t get me wrong they are two very good players, however with both hampered by form and the fact they are not first choice at their clubs it is a worry and that’s not even mentioning the back up, Steven Caulker and Steven Taylor – who have just one cap between them.
Now that brings me onto the midfield, a big strength. Captain Gerrard will be back, and its likely Tom Cleverley will start (he has started all of the qualifiers so far) with Carrick, Lampard or Scott Parker vying for the third central midfield berth. I think it will be a straight choice between Parker and Carrick, as the defence will need protection and Lamps will be a very good option off the bench.
Rooney up front is a no brainer, but who on the wings. Roy loves James Milner because of his discipline (and there is no Walcott to give the manager a quandary) and on the other side I expect Danny Welbeck to play – again another Hodgson favourite who has never let his country down.
Oh yeah Joe Hart in goal another no brainer, though he did make a mistake against San Marino with a poor clearance, but against a Montenegro team on the up his concentration needs to be at his highest, I suspect he’ll have a much busier night than last Friday.
So a strong front six will look to keep Montenegro on the back foot to protect a weakened back four. And before you ask I know I have not mentioned the full backs. I expect Glenn Johnson to come back in at right back, but at left back its a toss up. It has to be Leighton Baines on form, but I just have a sneaky feeling Ashley Cole may be recalled for his experience – a tough one for the manager but that is what he is paid for. Hodgson does tend to air on the cautious side, hence my tip is the 100 cap Chelsea star.
Now a little on Montenegro. they are definitely an emerging nation and fought out a gritty 0-1 away victory in Moldova (scoring the winner when they were down to 10 men). They are a difficult team to break down and very dogged when needed. They have played England twice before in the last European qualifying campaign and got two respectable draws and with Vucinic and Jovetic they have two fantastic players who could score goals from nothing and they will be licking their lips at England’s defensive issues. It will be a very interesting game and the pressure is on England to perform well and get the result needed. But with forecast inclement weather, a dodgy pitch I suspect it will be a tough night for Roy’s men, concentration and fight will need to be in abundance as the standard hostile Eastern European atmosphere will be another factor the three lions will have to cope with.
One thing in England’s favour, the thrashing of San Marino will mean players on the bench are in good form and confident to come on and do a job and furthermore – I have stat of the day – England have never lost a qualifying match (European Championships or World Cup) in March, after the facile win over San Marino its 15 undefeated, so we have nothing to worry about…….well hopefully :-s.
Let me know your thoughts. My personal view – we should get a desired result but football is as they say a ‘funny old game’.