England were beaten by Chile and Germany in the past week, however Three Lions boss Roy Hodgson can take positives from the two games.
Here's five things he can take from the defeats:
1. Joe Hart is still England's No. 1
Despite losing his Manchester City place Joe Hart proved against the Germans that he is still firmly in the driving seat when it comes to England's number 1 position. Against the Germans he produced a series of saves that kept England in the game and showed why he is still one of the best shot stoppers in the business. His ability has never been in doubt but his judgement and decision making from time to time attracts criticism and he will need to sharpen up in this department.
Fraser Forster was given a debut against Chile to give him a taste of International football after impressing with Celtic but I think Roy Hodgson is clear in his own mind that Hart will be his number one in Brazil in the summer. John Ruddy is another good back-up to Hart but the fact that he didn't play in the friendlies leads me to believe that he will not be considered in the summer for a starting place unless an injury to Hart occurs.
2. Ashley Cole is still England's best left-back
Ashley Cole, one of England's finest ever left-backs, is still in pole position when it comes to starting places in Roy Hodgson's squad. He is being put under some serious pressure in a position where England are blessed with an array of talent. Leighton Baines has been performing magnificently for Everton and when called upon for England he has always played well. However, Cole's superiority in defending gives him the edge.
Baines is very good going forward and is always capable of delivering a telling cross or creating something from a dead ball situation but Hodgson will be heading to Brazil with a defence that is very inexperienced particularly in tournament football. They will need a leader on the pitch and Cole has all the attributes for this role in defence. England have strength in depth with Arsenal's Kieran Gibbs and Southampton's Luke Shaw showing promise but Cole still has the edge for me.
3. Strong midfield competition leaves no place for James Milner in World Cup squad
There are a number of midfielders who will be worrying about their place in Roy Hodgson's 23 man squad for Brazil but none more so than James Milner. A very under-rated midfielder he has often been called upon by England to perform an unselfish, solid role in qualifiers particularly away from home. He is versatile and always gives one hundred per cent but has never been a fans favourite and his place now is under threat more than ever.
England have an array of midfield talent who are seemingly in front of Milner in the pecking
order. Clearly Lampard and Gerrard are the main experienced midfielders but they now have youngsters in the squad who are more than capable of taking over in the future. The likes of Andros Townsend, Ross Barkley, Jack Wilshere, Jordan Henderson, Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley and Adam Lallana all look to have stolen a march on the Manchester City midfielder. England often like to take a versatile player to a tournament but in midfield they have cover for
every position so may not feel the need to take someone like Milner.
After all Roy Hodgson is building for future World Cup campaigns with a youthful team so
I believe he will look to take a younger less experienced player in order to give them the experience that they crave. England need to be more creative in midfield and unfortunately for Milner he has never been labelled as such.
4. Inexperienced defence
Against the top sides England have shown a vulnerability in defence. Against Chile both Gary Cahill and Leighton Baines were caught napping for the goals and against Germany Chris Smalling was found wanting when Germany scored the winning goal. Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka are England's first choice centre-back pairing but they have very little experience between them.
Hodgson did the right thing in using his back up defenders in the Chile and Germany games but this also exposed the weakness in this area of the field. Neither Chris Smalling or Phil Jones are regular centre-backs with their club and neither produced displays
that will have excited Hodgson despite their preference to play in this position.
When Germany and Chile decided to increase the tempo England's defence was found wanting and without protection they could be severely exposed regularly. There is no doubt the defence needs a strong leader like John Terry or Rio Ferdinand but these players are difficult to replace. The right-back position is still up for grabs as well. Kyle Walker has played a number of games now but England also have Glenn Johnson as well as the likes of Smalling and Jones who have played in that position.
5. Ball retention is key in International football
For a long time now England have been outclassed against premier opposition because teams retain the ball well and are very comfortable with the ball at their feet. England are starting to realise that possession of the ball is everything in International football but this is not always easy to do when our players are more used to the hustle and bustle of Premier League football rather than the slower paced possession football on the continent.
This will not be easy to fix but Hodgson is trying to instil this in his players. The fact that Hodgson no longer deploys a big centre forward helps because England do not have the
temptation of an automatic out ball. They are forced to play the ball through midfield but have had mixed fortunes doing this. In the World Cup qualifiers against weaker opposition England looked very comfortable but against better sides who press high up the pitch they are always in danger of losing the ball in key areas leading to exposure of their defenders. This happened on a number of occasions against Chile and Germany.
England need to have patience with the ball and trust their ability but this is easier said than done. England's defenders are not always comfortable at playing the ball out of defence and
against Germany they gave the ball away regularly and resulted to long ball tactics at times. It will be a change in culture for our players but Hodgson appears to be willing to try which can only benefit our players and any hopes for future success.
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