England manager Roy Hodgson is faced with a huge selection dilemma ahead of their crucial World Cup qualifier against Ukraine in Kiev on Tuesday.
Friday night’s 4-0 victory against Moldova at Wembley came at a great cost for England, leaving them with a striker crisis ahead of their final away match of the campaign, putting their World Cup qualification hopes in jeopardy in the process.
With Wayne Rooney already absent as a result of a head injury sustained in an collision with Manchester United team mate Phil Jones, and the in-form Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge failing to recover from the thigh injury, Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck was set to be a crucial figure against Ukraine on Tuesday.
Unfortunately for Hodgson and England, Welbeck, who scored twice on Friday, has been suspended for the match against Ukraine after picking up his second booking of the qualifying campaign.
The referee deemed him to have played on and wasted time after being given offside in the closing minutes of the first half against Moldova. The decision was certainly a harsh one and Hodgson and Welbeck were both right to feel aggrieved by the situation.
Hodgson was particularly aggrieved after the manner in which Welbeck’s earlier booking in the campaign was received. Against Montenegro in March the Manchester United star was booked for diving when there was clearly a certain amount of contact.
So with Rooney, Sturridge and Welbeck all absent for Tuesday’s match in Kiev, it leaves Rickie Lambert and Jermain Defoe as the only out-and-out strikers in England’s squad.
Lambert is set to reprise his role as the central striker when England face Ukraine. His substitution after 70 minutes was a strong indication that he will have a big part to play on Tuesday and made it clear his importance to the side.
The Southampton forward now has two goals in his two England caps and provided the assists for both of Danny Welbeck’s goals against Moldova.
Despite his fantastic start to his international career, Lambert has limited international experience, which could prove problematic as England come up against a very professional, settled, organised and hard-working outfit like Ukraine away from home in such a high profile and important fixture.
Another option for Hodgson is Tottenham’s Jermain Defoe. Defoe has made over 50 appearances for England and has scored 19 international goals so has great pedigree at this level.
He has, however, not started a league game for his club this season and could potentially be lacking spark in front of goal. Defoe would be more than capable of doing a job for England as a lone striker if Hodgson wanted to reshuffle his pack, but with Lambert in such fine form, he may be a better option off the bench.
Hodgson is likely to stick with the 4-3-3 formation that was deployed against Moldova with Lambert and Theo Walcott filling the central and right hand side positions in the front three leaving the left hand side as the problem position.
The options Hodgson has to replace Welbeck are Manchester United winger Ashley Young and Manchester City midfielder James Milner who has been publicly backed this weekend by the England manager.
Ashley Young was named as a forward when the England squad was announced and could easily deputise for Welbeck if required.
Young is blessed with blistering pace and could be lethal on the counter-attack if he can rediscover the form he showed a couple of years ago at Aston Villa. Since moving to Manchester United, he has had his fair share of injury problems and has struggled to find his best form.
He is yet to cement his place in Manchester United’s best eleven and has had a particularly underwhelming start to the season, struggling to make an impact as they look to defend their title.
Despite these apparent shortfalls, Young would be a more than adequate replacement on the left for England and has been backed by QPR manager Harry Redknapp to replace Welbeck on Tuesday.
The most likely candidate to start in place of Welbeck on Tuesday is James Milner. Milner replaced Lambert for the final 20 minutes against Moldova and put in an impressive display despite missing a chance to make it 5-0 in the closing passages of the game.
Although Milner is not your typical winger and lacks the express pace that gets football fans excited, his experience, durability, versatility and work-rate are all key attributes that could prove crucial on the away trip to Kiev.
Possible England starting XI – Hart, Walker, Cole, Cahill, Jagielka, Gerrard (c), Wilshere, Lampard, Walcott, Milner, Lambert.
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