This week marks a year since the FIFA World Cup in Brazil kicked off, and while we all knew that England weren’t likely to win the competition there was still some optimism back then that we’d at least return to the days of glorious defeat. Needless to say that wasn’t the case, with the Three Lions effectively eliminated after two matches of the group stage, and another rebuilding process was underway.
Nine England fixtures on from Brazil and at the halfway stage of Euro 2016 qualifying, we’ve looked at who has made real inroads this year in terms of England – taking into account club form as well as their international performances - as well as those that have fallen away and the players that may yet still offer something to this side in the long run.
Perhaps the player to benefit most from the last 12 months, Southampton right back Nathaniel Clyne has effectively secured himself a place in England’s starting XI. A strong start to the season saw The Saints second in the Premier League table after 11 games with the best defensive record in the division, with Clyne also getting goals at Anfield and The Emirates along the way, making his October call-up more than deserved. He was an unused substitute in that round of games but injuries led to Clyne starting in the November qualifier against Slovenia, and after his impressive showing then he hasn’t looked back with the right back spot now looking like his own.
Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard’s international retirements after the 2014 World Cup led to immediate opportunities for some English midfielders to step up, and that included Aston Villa’s midfielder Fabian Delph. The then 24 year-old made his debut as a second half sub in the August friendly against Norway, and a few days later was a surprise starter in the Euro 2016 qualifier away at Switzerland, arguably England’s toughest fixture of the group. Delph played well in the win, operating on the left side of a midfield three, and impressed Hodgson enough to (when fit) remain in the set up since.
Already a regular in the England set up, Danny Welbeck has become near enough undroppable in the last year thanks to six goals in the five Euro 2016 qualifiers so far, including a vital brace in Switzerland. The forward is yet to establish himself as a key player for The Gunners since joining last summer from Manchester United, but his international form means his place in Roy Hodgson’s side isn’t likely to be under threat.
England’s number one looked in trouble at one stage last year at club level, dropped by Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini after a mistake against Stoke City, but Hart only missed two league games all season in the end as he reaffirmed his place in the side. At international level, he remains by far and away the first choice keeper for England, holding off the emerging Fraser Forster with relative ease and looking comfortable whenever in an England shirt. Hart passed 50 caps recently and there’s little to suggest he won’t romp his way to a century with his country.
Henderson started for England at the World Cup alongside Liverpool team-mate Steven Gerrard in midfield, but the former Sunderland man has been liberated at international level without Gerrard by his side. Together with Jack Wilshere, when fit, Henderson has shown enough in the middle now to be a proven regular now and we look forward to seeing further development from the 24 year-old in the future.
There have been few positives to be taken from Luke Shaw’s career since his massive move to Old Trafford last season. A catastrophic World Cup for the Three Lions was compounded for the 19-year-old when he was met with a public dressing down from new coach Louis Van Gaal upon his return from international duty for his perceived lack of fitness. The new Dutch coach of Manchester United claimed the young left-back wasn’t up to the required levels of a United player and was adamant that Shaw wouldn’t feature at the Theatre Of Dreams until he raised his fitness levels. With only 18 appearances across the 2014-15 season, it was clear that Shaw wasn’t reaching the standard that Van Gaal had set for the £27million summer signing. Recently omitted from Roy Hodgson’s England side, it’s clear that things have not gone according to plan for Shaw since his trip to Brazil and it will take a big improvement to put himself back in real contention.
Johnson is one of those leaving his club this summer after his contract at Anfield expires. The 30-year-old drifted more and more into something of a squad role during the 2014-15 season, and it became clear that he has become subject to requirement at Liverpool. Johnson appeared 20 times for The Reds this season but has failed to secure a consistent starting position since his side’s 3-0 loss to Manchester United back in December. Johnson has however been consistent in the Three Lions shirt with 54 senior caps over an 11-year spell, which perhaps lends more to the fact that he has not been selected to represent his nation at the upcoming European Championships. With the recent rise to dominance of Southampton’s Nathaniel Clyne it looks unlikely that we will see Johnson shine in the White shirt of England again.
Since his move to Anfield from Southampton, Rickie Lambert has faded into obscurity, becoming the third choice forward at a club desperate for goals. With 29 appearances across the 2014-15 season for Liverpool, Lambert has only started nine of those and has found the net only three times. The forward player a full 90 minutes 20 times during his last season with the Saints but has, since returning from the 2014 World Cup, become a fringe player who has seen himself fall down the pecking order at Liverpool below flop Mario Balotelli. Lambert did provide the assist to Danny Welbeck in England’s 2-0 win over Switzerland in the European Qualifying tie back in September of 2014 but has been more often than not unmentioned and certainly unremarkable for club and country.
An enigmatic footballer who shone bright during Liverpool’s fantastic 2013-14 season, Daniel Sturridge has endured a torrid campaign since his return from Brazil at the end of the summer. Blighted by injury woes, Sturridge has only managed 14 games this season and only four goals, a return almost unbelievable when taking into consideration his phenomenal input the season prior. With word emerging already that Sturridge may not be fit for even the start of next season, he finds himself in a precarious position for both club and country and could be one of the best players unable to shine for Roy when it comes to tournament time.
Andros Townsend is one of those rare players who seems to shine brightest in an international shirt and was heralded as a true star for England ahead of the summer’s World Cup. Heavily praised and with huge expectation, it was both emotionally and physically destroying to the Spurs man when he was forced to pull out of the summer competition due to injury. Roy Hodgson clearly has a soft spot for Townsend and believes the winger can be important to the England side however after his dire campaign in 2014-15 that saw him feature 17 times for Tottenham and provide only two goals and two assists, it will take a lot for Andros to re-assert himself as one of the players able to break into this England side to make an impact. At only 23-years-old, there is more than enough time for Townsend to turn it around but will know that anything short of a great season could spell the end to his international and domestic ambitions.
The former Watford and Aston Villa winger has looked set to depart Manchester United on more than one occasion, but Ashley Young has excelled under Louis van Gaal and arguably been one of the club’s best performers all season. This has not, however, led to a return to the England set up just yet. Roy Hodgson recently suggested that Young would have made this squad were it not for an injury, and there will be few people who would argue with the 29 year-old’s selection. Young hasn’t played for England since September 2013, and while he may not return to be the fixture he was for the national side in 2011 and 2012 his squad form certainly warrants a call-up.
A breakthrough season at club level, with over 30 goals in all competitions for Tottenham Hotspur, saw a deserved call-up for 21 year-old Harry Kane in the Spring of this year. A debut England goal against Lithuania was followed by another cap in Italy a few days later, but Kane was not selected for this latest squad. The Spurs striker is instead back with the under-21s, with whom he’s scored eight in ten caps, and going to the European Championship Finals this summer. Rather than being dropped, it would appear that Hodgson and U21 boss Gareth Southgate believe the next month or so will provide major tournament experience for Kane that could come in very useful next year when the senior side goes to France for Euro 2016 (assuming they qualify, of course!). There’s growing competition in England’s front line and it’s key that Kane continues to improve so as to become a future England great rather than a one-season wonder.
Called up to this England squad ahead of Kane was Queens Park Rangers’ striker Charlie Austin. The 25 year-old scored 18 goals in his debut Premier League season, and so even though QPR will be playing in the Championship next season it’s almost certain that they will do so without their main man. It’s been a long climb to the big time for Austin, who was playing for non-league Poole Town in 2009, but there will be top flight suitors aplenty for the striker and regular goalscoring form at the top level would ensure a place in the England squad for a while to come. Austin didn’t feature in the friendly against the Republic of Ireland but may be capped in Slovenia this weekend and, unlike Jamie Vardy’s cap in Ireland, there’s certainly the potential for more appearances. There’s always room for a proven goalscorer!
While Nathaniel Clyne has broken into the England starting lineup, his Southampton team-mate on the opposite flank is still relatively on the periphery. Capped twice in 2012, following his surprise appearance in the Champions League Final for Chelsea, the left back has been behind the likes of Leighton Baines, Luke Shaw and Kieran Gibbs in the pecking order for England but Baines’ injury and Shaw’s poor fitness has seen a return to the set up in the last couple of months. Bertrand was capped against Italy and Ireland, with the 25 year-old starting ahead of Gibbs in Dublin, and with regular top half Premier League football at club level now – not least one of the best defences – he may well be a part of Hodgson’s long-term plans.
Much maligned at Old Trafford, midfielder Cleverley went some way to restoring his reputation as a player during his season-long loan spell at Aston Villa this season. Although there wasn’t much to shout about under Paul Lambert, the arrival of Tim Sherwood at Villa Park appeared to breathe new life into the player and he played a big part in keeping the club up. Cleverley hasn’t been capped by England since 2013, but was recalled to the squad for this round of international fixtures which would suggest he could yet still offer something. The 25 year-old’s United contract is up this month, and Everton have already confirmed he will be joining them ahead of the new season. The move reunites Cleverley with Roberto Martinez, the manager he played under while on loan at Wigan Athletic four seasons ago, and if he is able to flourish at Goodison Park then that could bode very well for England.
Words by Ben Fawcett and Joe Walker