England ticked all the boxes on their trip to San Marino on Friday night, but it was really just a training session. It was a pitiful case of attack versus defence, with England’s key success being that their squad seemingly came through the match physically unscathed. Much has been said about the pointlessness of the excursion to the microstate, enclosed by Italy, but all you can do is beat what is in front of you, and England performed this task with some swagger, which was expected on them.
I am almost certain that Roy Hodgson had already selected his starting line-up for Montenegro, before the game in which England recorded their biggest win since October 1987. However, there is an uncertainty as to Hodgson will approach this crucial top of the table clash. Personally, I feel that in the build-up to this game, Montenegro has been overestimated. Ranked 28th in the world, I would like to see England approach the game with confidence and attack from the off. Hodgson’s England need to learn to dominate in these types of games, without the fear of failure that has shackled England in recent history.
There had been rumours before Friday’s game that Michael Carrick would deputise at centre back in light of England’s centre back shortage. However, I feel the fact that Hodgson paired Chris Smalling and Jolean Lescott together in England’s first game, demonstrates that he is likely to go the same way on Tuesday evening. Whilst the pairing did little more than twiddle their thumbs against the Sanmarinese, it provided valuable time for the two to build an understanding between one another. Both players have been short of games this year for various reasons, but there is no question in their abilities. I feel Roy Hodgson is particularly keen on Chris Smalling, and with a assured display on Tuesday night, I am certain that Lescott will put himself firmly back into the manager’s thinking. After a brilliant campaign last season, it is puzzling to me why Lescott has been so sparingly used under Roberto Mancini in recent months.
Whilst Kyle Walker has hugely impressed me hugely in the early part of his career, Glen Johnson has begun to really cement himself as England’s number one right back, after a superb Euro 2012 and backing up those performances internationally this season. This position has long been up for grabs since the end of Gary Neville’s international career, and Johnson has done well to finally back the position his own.
Ashley Cole, after over a decade with little to no competition for his position, has begun to feel the breath of Leighton Baines on his neck. Being one of the key pillar stone’s at Everton, Baines has a lot to offer. Whilst I predict Cole will be the man given the nod to play in Podgorica, it may not be long before the debate as to who England’s best left-back is, will begin to get a little more serious.
The only concern for me ahead of such a pivotal game, is that it is far from a settled back four. England will certainly be tested by Montenegro’s two Italian-based forwards. Mirko Vucinic, the country’s leading goalscorer, whilst far from prolific for Juventus, is still a goal threat. Having had Champions League experience with both Roma and Juventus, I predict that he may have the guile and knowhow required to test England’s new centre back pairing. Furthermore, the young Steven Jovetic, is having a successful season with Fiorentina, scoring 12 goals in 24 league apperances, as they look to push for a Champions League spot in Serie A.
Roy Hodgson will be wary of the threat that Montenegro pose. It is vital not just for England to win, but for England to win with confidence. After draws with Ukraine and Poland, it is crucial that England stamp their authority on Group H. It is clear that the spotlight will be upon England’s two centre backs on Tuesday night, yet individually they have experience of playing in games bigger than this, and therefore I do not expect them to be intimidated. With the retirement of John Terry and the uncertainty surrounding the future of Rio Ferdinand, these are two spots in England’s line-up that are up for grabs. With Brazil 2014 only just over a year away, a competent display and three points for England will do their chances no harm whatsoever.