Roy Hodgson is reportedly set to abandon caution and go with what he believes is his greatest strength in order to beat Italy in England’s opening game of the World Cup.
Despite only tallying 39 minutes in all of England’s pre-World Cup warm-up games, Raheem Sterling is set to be deployed as the team’s No.10, in a move that will mirror Liverpool’s success in the 3-2 win over Manchester City last season.
Hodgson’s decision, provided he goes ahead with this tactical move, will please those who have encouraged the England coach to be brave, bold and go for the jugular, in what is a ruthless World Cup group, which also features Uruguay.
But it would be naïve to think 19-year-old Sterling is enough to nullify the threats posed by the Italians.
Andrea Pirlo arrives in Brazil off the back of another Serie A title with Juventus. The veteran playmaker is once again being touted as Cesare Prandelli’s danger man, and one who is offering no clear signs that he intends to slow down anytime soon.
Man-marking the Juventus midfielder may prove to be a joyless task for any of England’s midfielders. Jordan Henderson represents one of the best options in Hodgson’s squad to attempt to shut down Pirlo, but the Italian’s intelligence and constant movement means he can supply his forwards with only a few yards of space.
Raheem Sterling’s adjustment to the No.10 role for Liverpool will do a lot to unsettle Italy’s back line, who, despite possessing Juventus’ back three of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini – three-time Serie A champions, uncharacteristically do not appear to be the most relaxed and assured defensive unit going into this tournament.
England may not have too much trouble scoring if Sterling, Wayne Rooney – who you assume will be picked – and Daniel Sturridge can produce. The worry is what’s going the other way.
Ciro Immobile, fresh off his signing with Borussia Dortmund, could very well replace Mario Balotelli as Italy’s first-choice striker. The former Torino and Juventus forward finished top scorer in Serie A last season, while former teammate Alessio Cerci was one of the more dangerous wide players (also able to play through the middle) of last season.
The other worry could be in Prandelli’s deployment of both Pirlo and Marco Verratti, who is seen as the long-term replacement for the former. PSG’s youngster is a precocious talent, who looked right at home amid the pressure and expectation latched onto the Parisians. This isn’t a player who shouldn’t be taken lightly, regardless of his propensity to over-elaborate, even around his own penalty area.
It certainly goes against the grain, but England’s clash with Italy is a game which requires someone like James Milner. The Manchester City midfielder may be looked upon as a negative option and one who symbolises a defensive mentality, but Milner puts as much effort into his attacking play as he does his defensive work. He’s not what England want or need at right-back – unfortunately, Glen Johnson represents one of the better options available to Hodgson. Instead, Milner on the right wing or in a three-man midfield would offer balance in helping to stem the tide of Italy’s attack, while also providing going forward.
England supporters may be encouraged by an attacking approach adopted by Hodgson, but this is not a team who can dominate nations such as Italy – there’s nothing in England’s recent history to suggest they can do so. Being brave and bold is the easy option; why not follow Liverpool’s ideals of outscoring the opposition? But being smart will bring far greater rewards.
We’re talking about Sterling based on his form with Liverpool, not on what he’s done with England. The same is the case for Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson, Daniel Sturridge, and a few others. By all means England should check fear at the door, but not at the total discard of smart tactics.
Sterling, judging by his form with Liverpool, should be able to threaten the Italy goal on Saturday and play a role in which England’s attack can be built around. But the threat Italy themselves carry must not be forgotten.