This is the first world cup that I can remember where there hasn’t been an air of optimism surrounding England’s world cup chances. 2006 of course was the so-called golden generation but in 2010 there was still a sort of unspoken belief that England could go the distance. In 2014 however there is a unanimous feeling that England are guaranteed not to do well and would be lucky to get out of the group.
Let me begin by saying that should England not get out of the group it would not be a travesty. Our group has both the team that knocked us out of our last tournament as well as the current Copa America winners. Everyone and their dog in England has predicted how England are going to line up and then also had a stab at choosing the team themselves. I am not going to predict what Roy is going to do, I am however going to provide a team that I feel, if played, could spring a surprise or two. Instead of the monotonous 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 that we are almost inevitably going to play I suggest something more radical; the diamond.
The diamond has almost become a loaded term and people tend to loathe it. England have tried it before (and failed) when trying to fit Lampard, Gerrard and Scholes into the team. I believe now though we have the team that can pull off a 4-4-2 diamond. Let me explain. The back five and front two pretty much chooses itself, I think most can agree that it should and probably will be: Hart, Johnson, Jagielka, Cahill, Baines and then Rooney and Sturridge up top.
The main thing to consider when playing the diamond is that the midfield need to know the system well. Again we can all agree that Steven Gerrard will be playing and this season found his best form. What position did he find his best form? Playing the holding role of the diamond. Then you have Henderson and Sterling, two more Liverpool players who have played in the system, Henderson in the midfield two and Sterling at the tip of the diamond. Anyone who has watched Liverpool this season can agree that Sterling, while dangerous out wide, has been devastating playing in the hole. The fact that 3 of the 4 midfielders play in this system together week in week out surely means that it is an option that has to be seriously considered. This then leaves the last midfield spot, it’s between Lampard, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain or Milner. You of course have Lallana and Barkley to remember but both are more suited to playing in the hole rather in the middle pairing. Personally I would have Milner as my first choice, tactically he is more disciplined than Wilshere and The Ox and is fitter than Lampard. Looking at the squad really shows the lack of quality out wide in England, there are no natural wingers. Lallana, Milner, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sterling, Barkley are the wide players in the squad but I think all of them are better playing centrally rather than being stuck out wide. The diamond takes advantage of this lack of quality out wide.
A large criticism that arises when talking about the diamond is the lack of width. Again if you look at the team, Johnson plays in the diamond system at Liverpool and Baines is no stranger to getting up the wing. So my England team would be: Hart, Johnson, Jagielka, Cahill, Baines, Gerrard, Henderson, Milner, Sterling, Rooney, Sturridge.