Manchester United forward Danny Welbeck has been handed a cruel blow ahead of England's World Cup opener against Italy, as a thigh injury has made his involvement in that match a serious doubt.
According to the Daily Mail, the Old Trafford star is almost certain to miss out if he cannot make an unlikely recovery ahead of the match in Manaus on Saturday, which hands Roy Hodgson a selection headache. Welbeck is a favourite of the England manager and was likely to start against the Italians this weekend, but his injury could end up being a blessing in disguise.
There is no question about the 23-year-old's application, he is as hard a worker as the Three Lions have, but there are legitimate doubts over his ability to produce quality attacking play on a regular basis. Welbeck is a versatile forward and can cover any gaps in an attacking line, but this versatility comes at a cost of goals - he has found the net only eight times in 24 appearances for the national team.
A forward that doesn't score goals, but works extremely hard and can have an effect tactically will always provide problems for managers, especially when options are limited. Limited options in attack have been a hallmark of England's last few major tournaments, but Hodgson is fortunate enough in that his tenure has coincided with the emergence of some of the most exciting young players England have had for a number of years.
The former Fulham, West Brom and Liverpool boss is cautious in nature and the (nominally) 4-2-3-1 formation he has deployed while in charge of England asks much of the two wide men flanking the 'number 10' behind the central striker. They are required to be vigilant of their defensive duties, as well as tucking in to bolster the central midfield - put simply; they have a hell of a lot of running to get through.
Welbeck is blessed with a natural athleticism and quite an engine, so it is no great surprise that Hodgson often likes to pick him and James Milner, who has made a living out of hard work, for these wide roles. However, Milner has not looked his usual spritely self of late and it could be that the man who broke onto the scene as a 16-year-old is now feeling the weight of pretty much 12 years of graft every week in the football season, not to mention 12 Premier League starts for Manchester City this season possibly making him a touch undercooked heading into the oven of Brazil.
Milner's slump and Welbeck's injury could force Hodgson to include one of the likes of Raheem Sterling or Ross Barkley, both of whom have shown glimpses this season and in the warm-up matches that they are ready to bring a new dimension to England's attacking play. England's cautious approach is well known and strict organisation has been a key component of most the teams to travel to major tournaments in recent times, but this has got them nowhere.
It is time to take a new approach and unleash the battery of talented, technically outstanding youngsters Hodgson has at his disposal - free of the weight and the shadow of expectations that game with the 'Golden Generation'. Nobody is expecting a great deal from England in Brazil, which makes it the opportune time to look at things differently, take a different approach, one that says aspires for entertainment and verve.
While Brazil did not invent football, it was where its real spirit was cultivated; a spirit of joy and expression - what better place for England to finally embrace the freedom and audacity of youth?
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