Full-up on forwards, England look worryingly thin at the back

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When England begin to warm-up for Euro 2016 with friendlies against Germany and the Netherlands, Roy Hodgson will have four centre-halves to choose from.

For some time now Chris Smalling, John Stones, Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill have been the top centre-back quartet in the country, as far as Three Lions selection is concerned.

In fact, in the last 12 months, the only other player Hodgson has selected that’s able to line up in the heart of defence is Manchester United’s Phil Jones.

Considering the former Blackburn man hasn’t played since January, there appears to be little pressure being exerted on the main four candidates from the rest.

Arguably, only one of those apparent Euros shoo-ins is in form. With no strength in depth to call on, that’s a real worry.

Stones, heralded as the next great ball-playing centre-back not so long ago, has started just one Premier League game since January 31 for Everton.

Jagielka, Stones’ teammate, has partnered Ramiro Funes Mori in his younger countryman’s absence, but is part of a defensive unit that has conceded 41 goals in 29 top-flight games.

Cahill has had his rhythm thrown out of kilter by injury and a constantly changing back line at Chelsea, which leaves Smalling – a bright spot in an inconsistent Manchester United season – as the only reliable member of the quartet.

Such a dramatic purge of resources has almost snuck up on England. There was a time when centre back was a position of assured security.

Not so long ago, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Sol Campbell, Jamie Carragher and Ledley King all ensured quality was never sacrificed at the back. Now it appears Hodgson can’t even find a fifth defender to supplement his group.

It’s a stark contrast to the flipped fortunes at the sharp end of the pitch, where the Three Lions are tripping over the scattered array of options to start in the forward positions.

From the days of goal-shy Emile Heskey playing alongside Michael Owen, England have found themselves with an embarrassment of riches.

Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy have gate-crashed a party that already had Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck in attendance.

Unless the threadbare centre-backs pick up their form in time for France, Hodgson may need all five of them to win games.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Matt Wiggins

No idyllic sound comes close to leather on willow for Matt, whose previous experience includes stints with Spin Magazine and Surrey County Cricket Club. It's not just cricket that interests him though, with football, golf, tennis and any American sport not played on ice all high on his list of favourites.