Unlike the England managers of yesteryear, Roy Hodgson can finally enjoy the luxury of a plethora of in-form strikers. Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge are dead certainties to make his final selection when the World Cup rolls around while Danny Welbeck is most likely to follow.
But for once his back-up options aren’t the lost causes of previous selections. And Hodgson may do no better than looking to Southampton’s Jay Rodriguez
The excitement of squad selection for past tournaments has often focused much debate surrounding the issue of strikers. With Rooney the only nailed-on certainty over the last decade – Michael Owen’s recurrent injuries put paid to his spot – the likes of Peter Crouch, Emile Heskey and Darius Vassell have come and gone.
The spotlight is likely to fall on the likes of Rickie Lambert, Andy Carroll and Jay Rodriguez. And in current form Rodriguez is making Hodgson’s job a whole lot easier.
After a fantastic first-half display away at Tottenham this past weekend Rodriguez has now recorded three goals in his past three matches. He took some time to hit top form this season due to the presence of the troublesome Dani Osvaldo, but since his January departure, Rodriguez has flourished.
His recent goalscoring streak has seen him reach 13 Premier League goals, equalling Wayne Rooney’s current tally. He is the joint-second highest English goalscorer in the league, and that fact alone should be enough to cement his name firmly in Hodgson’s thoughts.
Southampton’s success has been in no small measure down to Rodriguez’s role in the side. His burgeoning relationship with Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and Lambert has been pivotal to and should be a factor taken into account by Hodgson when the time comes to start selecting.
He knows his role in the side, he is diligent in his work up and down the left wing, and makes intelligent forward runs from an inside-left position. His finishing, despite being wayward at times, is not bad at all. His goal against Tottenham proved his ability when one-on-one with the goalkeeper as he coolly slid the ball past Hugo Lloris into the side netting.
Lambert and Carroll provide significantly different options for Hodgson due to their size, physicality and hold-up ability. Andy Carroll is as big an aerial threat as you’ll see in European football while Rickie Lambert has composure with the ball at his feet and has the experience of playing in a side that has more to it than West Ham’s ‘kick it long’ tactics.
Taking Rodriguez along to Brazil will give a good indication as to how Hodgson plans on changing games. It’s unlikely that Hodgson will bring the other options as anything other than an impact sub. Bringing someone with the presence of Carroll or Lambert off the bench would hint towards a more direct approach, whereas Rodriguez poses a different kind of threat to defenders. His work-rate and his pace are key assets, but he can also fill gaps in wider areas in the midfield. He’s more likely to peel off the defence rather than get stuck amongst them.
Against an ageing side, such as Italy in the opening fixture in Manaus, someone with the energy of Rodriguez could cause greater problems to a fatigued backline than Carroll or Lambert may do. Their typical formation of three centre-backs would prove a tough ask even against someone as physically imposing as Carroll.
Likewise against Uruguay, the defensive duo of Diego Lugano and Diego Godin would much rather man-mark a more static striker. Rodriguez’s perpetual movement in-and-out would give them greater problems.
In choosing Rodriguez ahead of the bigger options Hodgson has at his fingertips will be a big hint as to how he plans on navigating the obstacles that await. The thought of a few risky picks when it comes to World Cup selection are always possible, and the inclusion of Jay Rodriguez may just be the most symbolic of all.