Smalling and Jones given significant nod of approval by Hodgson
Chris Smalling looked as hapless as the rest of the Manchester United defence as he slipped and slid his way through the Champions League tie in Greece like a giraffe on a skating rink.
But he is, barring injury, an 8/13 certainty to be one of England’s 23 going to Brazil next summer, judging by Roy Hodgson’s comments at the press conference following the announcement of the 30-strong squad for next week’s Wembley friendly against Denmark.
The England manager could hardly have been plainer: he would be taking no more than four centre backs to South America and England’s four are Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling.
We were already certain about Cahill and Jagielka, but Smalling wouldn’t have been a shoo-in for everybody, especially after recent United performances. It was a ringing endorsement for Jones, too, although at 4/11 the injury-prone Reds defender does represent more of a betting risk.
It’s a little clearer in the middle of the park, although some will have been surprised that Hodgson has kept faith with Tom Cleverley (13/8) rather than going with, say, Gareth Barry (5/1) or Tom Huddlestone (14/1), who, many would argue, have more to offer.
But England’s boss was at pains to point out that this is not a definitive squad. Players like Cleverley, Jay Rodriguez, Rickie Lambert and even Michael Carrick (2/7) are by no means guaranteed to be on the plane to Rio.
Rodriquez fluffed his lines rather when given a chance in the autumn, but is in good form again for Southampton and Hodgson clearly hasn’t given up on him.
Carrick, natural back-up for Steven Gerrard and Jack Wilshire in midfield, looked devoid of form and confidence in Athens. He’s a player fans seem to be either under-rating or over-rating, but he needs to get back to his best this spring to stay in the mix.
By the same token, Adam Johnson and Andy Carroll (both 4/1) aren’t out of the reckoning. Carroll will have his chance to stake his claim in West Ham’s remaining Premier League fixtures after spending most of the campaign on the sidelines.
The Geordie made a successful late bid for the Euros in 2012 and still offers that same unique option up front.
And of course the second part of this exercise is next Wednesday’s game itself. Hodgson will learn more about his best 23, even his best 11, while we fans and punters might gain more valuable clues.