There are still plenty of questions to answer about what sort of team England will have when it opens its World Cup against the United State on June 12, with injury questions attached to key players all over the field and no clear-cut candidate to start in goal.
Tottenham Hotspur’s policy to ‘Buy British’ has resulted in six players being named in manager Fabio Capello’s preliminary squad, more than any other of the 11 English Premier League sides represented on the team. Spurs had two more long-shot possibilities, winger David Bentley and midfielder Jermaine Jenas, but neither was included.
Premier League champions Chelsea and Manchester City, who Spurs beat out for fourth place, each have four players in the preliminary squad, while Aston Villa, Liverpool, Manchester United and, somewhat surprisingly, West Ham, each have three.
Four teams, Arsenal, Everton, Portsmouth and Sunderland, each have a single player on the roster.
Of the six Tottenham players, Aaron Lennon is arguably the best bet for the starting XI, although Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe will surely see time up front alongside Wayne Rooney, one of several in the squad who has battled injuries in recent weeks.
Rio Ferdinand’s form and fitness will be the deciding factors when it comes to Michael Dawson and Ledley King’s inclusion at centre back, with neither the best choice to provide cover at right back, where England’s depth is least. Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher has agreed to come out of international retirement and could back up Anfield teammate Glen Johnson at that position.
Should he make the final squad, Tom Huddlestone provides an attractive option in midfield, and could be deployed as holding midfielder, or possibly as sweeper if Capello chooses to play Rooney alone up front.
United might have had a fourth player in the squad, but midfielder Paul Scholes turned down Capello’s request to end his international retirement. Canadian-born midfielder Owen Hargeaves, whose career has been derailed by knee injuries, was not ruled fit enough for inclusion.
For a team that breezed through qualifying and has a relatively easy draw in the group stages, there’s no huge swell of confidence around England right now, with the hobbling Rooney the most reliable front man among an unconvincing group of strikers and Garth Barry’s ankle a major concern for the midfield.
There are issues of inexperience, too. Neither Dawson nor Manchester City winger Adam Johnson have been capped before while ’keeper Joe Hart and left backs Leighton Baines and Stephen Warnock have just one cap each.
With Barry likely out of action until shortly before the World Cup opener, it will be interesting to see how Capello lines up his team for pre-tournaments friendlies against Mexico at Wembley on May 24 and Japan in Austria on May 30. Those matches will provide clues as to the team we can expect to see against the Americans in Rustenburg.
Tottenham (6): Dawson, King, Huddlestone, Lennon, Defoe, Crouch
Chelsea (4): Ashley Cole, Terry, Joe Cole, Lampard
Man. City (4): Hart, Wright-Phillips, Johnson, Barry
Man. Utd (3): Ferdinand, Carrick, Rooney
Liverpool (3): Carragher, Johnson, Gerrard
Aston Villa (3): Warnock, Milner, Heskey
West Ham (3): Green, Upson, Parker
Arsenal (1): Walcott
Everton (1): Baines
Portsmouth (1): James
Sunderland (1): Bent