England travel to the joint lowest-ranked team in the world in the shape of minnows San Marino looking to revitalise a World Cup qualification campaign that just begun to stutter in late 2012.
Thumping 5-0 victories may have been secured against Group H minnows Moldova as well as San Marino, but Roy Hodgson’s men have been held to 1-1 draws by both Ukraine and Poland and currently trail group leaders Montenegro by two points ahead of the clash between the two sides in Montenegro on Tuesday.
Three points are a near-certainty against San Marino on Friday evening and so the emphasis will almost certainly be on whether the Three Lions can put on a performance worthy of their stature against such poor opponents. Indeed, it is worth remembering that although England did eventually put San Marino to the sword at Wembley in October, the scoreline was only 1-0 at half-time and the home crowd, as well as the players, were certainly restless.
Hodgson will thus surely choose an attacking line-up with the emphasis being on goals. Wayne Rooney looks set to start up front and he looks set to be partnered by either Danny Welbeck or Jermain Defoe, with Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Milner and Ashley Young all vying for the wider positions. Daniel Sturridge may also be handed an appearance after showing impressive form since his January move to Liverpool from Chelsea.
In midfield, England have been shorn of the services of Jack Wilshere due to the Arsenal man’s ongoing ankle problems so captain Steven Gerrard looks set to be partnered by either Frank Lampard, Scott Parker or Tom Cleverley. Against such limited opponents, the feeling may be to pair the attack-minded Gerrard and Lampard.
Defensively, Hodgson has a decision to make. Following John Terry’s international retirement, the farce surrounding Rio Ferdinand’s withdrawal from selection as well as the knee injury that rules Gary Cahill out of the clash with San Marino at least, Steven Taylor could be selected to make his international debut alongside either Joleon Lescott or Chris Smalling. Another option is to move Michael Carrick back into central-defence. The midfielder has turned out on occasion for Manchester United in the position and against a side where England will dominate possession and need incisiveness to break through an inevitable mass defence, Carrick’s ball-playing ability from the back could prove a useful option.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on San