Roy Hodgson putting his faith in players from outside the big clubs
Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy have done enough to force their way into the England squad
The changed complexion of Roy Hodgson’s England squad for this week’s friendlies against Germany and Holland, compared with the players he called up for the first internationals of this season, is a reflection of the new order at the top of the Premier League.
Back in August, players from established giants Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal accounted for almost half of Hodgson’s squad of 22. Tottenham and Leicester players hardly got a look in, providing only three of the squad members and just one starter in the two Euro 2016 qualifiers.
That one starting player was Leicester striker Jamie Vardy, but only against San Marino. When it came to the second match that week, the tougher home game against Switzerland, Hodgson put his faith principally in seven players from United, City and Arsenal.
Less than seven months later, Hodgson has been unable to ignore the impressive form of the English players in the Leicester and Tottenham ranks – and the under-performance, as individuals and collectively, of the bigger clubs.
Although his latest squad was expanded slightly to 24, Hodgson halved the number from United, City and Arsenal, who are now outnumbered by players from Tottenham (five call-ups) and Leicester (two).
To Hodgson’s credit, he has been flexible in his thinking and quicker than some previous England managers to choose in-form players with less glamorous backgrounds. By the time Euro 2016 starts in June, that flexibility looks set to give him greater options in terms of formation and personnel – as well as some selection headaches.
One of them is what we might call the Wayne Rooney problem and this week’s friendlies give Hodgson an opportunity to judge his squad without his captain, who is recovering from a knee injury.
In the role of attacking spearhead, Harry Kane is the Premier League’s top scorer and looks the best all-round choice. He was used as a substitute in the first internationals of the season at a time when, incredible as it seems now, questions were being raised about “second-season syndrome” after a scoreless start to the domestic campaign.
Kane came on after an hour of both internationals and scored in each of them, and his form has grown more impressive as the season has gone on. After failing to score in his first six appearances in the Premier League, he has notched 21 goals in 25 games since then, which already puts him level with last season’s tally.
Vardy, second in the scoring list with 19 goals, is another in-form option but may be best used as a substitute, especially if England are leading as his pace would give them an outlet that could solve the age-old problem of being pinned back under pressure. Other strikers are making a belated case, with Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck having recently returned from injury and already scoring important goals for their clubs.
Rooney, with seven Premier League goals, may end up with the lowest tally of his United career (which currently stands at 11), although that can be attributed in part to Louis Van Gaal’s lack of attacking ambition.
The case for Rooney in the No10 role behind a main striker is not that convincing either. He has only four assists in the Premier League this season, whereas Dele Alli has formed an excellent partnership with Kane at Tottenham and has nine assists, as well as the same number of goals as Rooney.
Rooney does not necessarily have to be squeezed out by either Kane or Alli, as the front five in England’s last match - the 2-0 friendly home win over France - was Kane, Rooney, Alli, Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley.
That may turn out to be a big clue to Hodgson’s plans for Euro 2016, although there are still openings for others with both Rooney and Sterling absent this week.
Tonight’s match in Germany looks tough for England, as it would be for any country, and the first measure of progress would be a goal, after the 2-0 defeat by Spain in their last friendly away from home.
That is not beyond them, as Germany looked unusually vulnerable in qualifying with their only clean sheets coming against minnows Georgia and Gibraltar. England will have to play well but a positive result is possible. Equally, Germany remain capable of a dominant performance at their best, making this a difficult match to call.
England clearly have a much better chance at home to Holland on Tuesday night and a win looks a good bet there given the problems still afflicting the Dutch.