Hodgsons's experiments

Manchester City's goalkeeper Joe Hart reacts after Barcelona's Lionel Messi scored a penalty during their Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, northern England February 18, 2014.

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1 WHO WILL BE UNDERSTUDY TO HART?

Joe Hart has rehabilitated himself at Manchester City and that will be enough for Roy Hodgson.

Unless the 26-year-old manages to injure himself between now and June, he'll be starting against Italy in Manaus. That, at least, offers more certainty than we saw in 2010 when three goalkeepers were in with a chance of starting all the way up to kick-off against the United States.

But who will step up if Hart is injured?

There is no outstanding back-up candidate.

Fraser Forster did nothing wrong, but failed to shine against Chile last November. Ben Foster had a quiet 45 minutes against the

Republic of Ireland in May 2013. You have to go all the way back to August 2012 to find the last time someone other than Hart started for England.

Hodgson would do well to give Forster, Foster or John Ruddy the chance to stake a claim for the understudy role.

2 COLE, BAINES OR SHAW FOR LEFT-BACK POSITION?

For over a decade, Ashley Cole has been one of the first names on the England team-sheet, but his time is drawing to a close.

After a poor display at St James' Park last November, Jose Mourinho concluded that he was no longer mobile enough to perform his tasks for Chelsea.

Cole has started only three league games since, his position usurped by the right-footed Cesar Azpilicueta.

Will Hodgson come to a similar conclusion or will he see the benefits of a fresh, albeit maturing, player?

He knows that Leighton Baines is a capable and proven replacement. But what of Southampton's Luke Shaw? Can he cope with the scrutiny of a night under the floodlights at Wembley?

Can he replicate his impressive club form for his country? Tomorrow morning is the perfect opportunity to blood the boy who might end up playing for England as long as Cole did.

3 WILL HODGSON GO FOR PROVEN OR PROMISE IN MIDFIELD?

Hodgson tends to prefer experience to promise, but even he surely won't be naive enough to think that a pairing of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard will keep the midfields of Italy, Uruguay and even Costa Rica at bay.

Lampard, whose decline is more advanced, has started only three league games for Chelsea this year.

Gerrard, by contrast, has missed only five for Liverpool.

If it is to be Gerrard who stays in the starting line-up, who will provide his ageing legs with cover?

Jordan Henderson has done the job for Liverpool and is well worth his place in the squad, but Jack Wilshere would be the ideal choice for that role.

The Arsenal midfielder has grown in stature over the last two years and this is his time to step up and establish himself on the world stage.

This pairing needs as much time as possible to gel.

4 WILL HODGSON START WITH THE OX AND STERLING ON THE FLANKS?

Andros Townsend's energy was one of the defining features of England's late qualifying campaign, but he has missed much of the season and has done little to prove that he's more than a one-trick pony.

England need one wide-man who can both attack and shuffle in and provide cover, and another who can offer out-and-out pace and invention.

The best pairing available is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Raheem Sterling.

Oxlade-Chamberlain has missed much of the season, but has been in exceptional form since his return. He is technically accomplished, tactically versatile and a determined worker.

As effective in the middle as he is wide, he can even offer cover in case of injury.

Sterling is far more raw, but is so tricky and confident that he can't be ignored.

And he works very well with the man I'd have leading the line...

5 WILL HODGSON USE ROONEY IN THE STRIKER'S ROLE, OR BEHIND STURRIDGE?

Wayne Rooney is many things: aggressive, impetuous, spontaneous and unpredictable, but he is not disciplined, in temperament or positioning.

Far better to put him in a free role behind the striker, than to have him ostensibly leading the line, but foraging deeper and deeper whenever he grows frustrated.

Rooney should start deep, offering support in front and behind him.

Daniel Sturridge should lead the line. The Liverpool striker has come of age this season and deserves a shot at the centre-forward role.

With Rooney behind him and Sterling as his wingman, Sturridge's pace and gloriously controlled arrogance is England's best hope of success in the summer.

Footballers rarely approach a World Cup in this kind of form. It would be a crime to allow him to waste away on the wing.


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