With Liverpool flying high at the very top of the Premier League, and Raheem Sterling simultaneously soaring into Roy Hodgson’s England plans for the World Cup, it seems prudent to see just how good a fit the 19-year-old is in comparison to other English wingers vying for a place on the plane, and if he is indeed the best on offer as we approach the summer.
England are no-one’s favourites for the World Cup – the best 2014 World Cup bookmakers have England as 11th favourites to win behind Uruguay and Colombia. Without a good winger, they may not even progress beyond the group stages, and it’s imperative Hodgson picks the best possible side to help England get the quarter-finals (which would be a solid achievement given the circumstances).
The below ratings are based on performances this season, and it is poignant how many have failed to impress, with two stand-out candidates set to take to the flanks for the Three Lions in South America:
1. Ashley Young, Manchester United – 4/10
It’s odd to think that the former Aston Villa man was the great English hope at one point, much like how Sterling is now. But Young, now 28, is on the very periphery of Hodgson’s plans, barely featuring for United in what has been an irrelevant season, having only completed the 90 minutes for David Moyes’ side only five times in the league so far.
2. Andros Townsend, Tottenham – 5/10
The 22-year-old became an overnight sensation following his performance against Montenegro last October that left England on the brink of World Cup qualification, but has faded badly this season, partly due to injury, playing the full 90 only once in the last 24 league games for Spurs.
3. Wilfried Zaha, Manchester United/Cardiff – 4/10
The Manchester United loanee has had minimal impact at the Welsh club, and has one solitary assist to his name this season. It’s fair to say he won’t be going to Brazil.
4. Tom Ince, Blackpool/Crystal Palace – 4/10
A potential star of the future, despite having fallen out of favour on loan at Crystal Palace, Ince will surely just be glad to be in the running for the 30-man England squad.
5. Andy Johnson, Sunderland – 5/10
Had a renaissance of sorts a year ago, forcing his way back into contention, but despite being an excellent player on his day, Johnson has dropped back down the pecking order for England.
6. Aaron Lennon, Tottenham – 6/10
Although he never quite made it at the highest level, despite being one of the quickest players in world football, Lennon will fancy his chances of bagging a plane ticket to Brazil. With Theo Walcott out of the picture, England will be looking elsewhere for that blistering pace.
7. James Milner, Manchester City – 6/10
One of those rare anomalies when picking an international squad. Despite Milner’s distinct lack of minutes for his club, he will surely be part of the setup in Brazil, due to him being an exceptional ‘jack-of-all-trades’.
8. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal – 8/10
A real bright spark for Arsenal this season, Oxlade-Chamberlain is one of England’s best hopes from a wide position. A nailed on part of Hodgson’s setup for the summer, the 20-year-old has a very bright future, and will be crucial to England’s aspirations.
9. Stewart Downing, West Ham – 4/10
Can cross a ball, but his time for England has been and gone.
10. Raheem Sterling, Liverpool – 8/10
The Liverpool man, along with Arsenal’s Oxlade-Chamberlain, will be key for the Three Lions this summer. Also adept at playing a more central role, the 19-year-old’s pace, confidence and trickery will see him be a solid starter for England in South America.
What do you think? Is Sterling key to Hodgson’s plans?