It was believed that Marcus Rashford had overtaken Daniel Sturridge in the battle to claim a place in England’s final 23-man squad for Euro 2016, but the Liverpool forward returned to training on Monday to strengthen his claims.
Roy Hodgson must turn 26 into 23 on Tuesday and the prospect of sending Rashford home was complicated when he scored in the third minute of his Three Lions debut against Australia.
The 18-year-old initially appeared to be in the extended party primarily to gain experience and receive some international exposure, yet his rapid progress coupled with fresh doubts over Sturridge’s fitness has created quite the dilemma.
Such competition just to travel to France, let alone make it onto the pitch, explains how England have come to be recognised as 8/1 fourth favourites in the tournament winner betting market.
THE THREE MOST LIKELY TO MISS OUT
Hodgson confirmed last week that the groin injury that ruled the Manchester City midfielder out of the audition match against Australia had effectively seen him demoted to the status of understudy.
Even if you take Delph out of the equation, there are at least eight players in the squad capable of operating in central midfield and Drinkwater has been handed the fewest England opportunities of the lot, encouraging the impression that he is the most expendable.
If Hodgson judged Delph’s unavailability against the Socceroos to be enough to write off his participation then he has given himself an out if he does wish to ditch Sturridge. The Reds striker is far more established than Rashford, but public opinion is behind the latter, so this would actually be the slightly easier call, especially with injury concerns providing a viable justification.
THE THREE ALTERNATIVES
Hodgson showed in starting 18-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at Euro 2012 and in suddenly turning to Andros Townsend at the end of a difficult World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign that, contrary to his reputation for conservatism, he likes to have a wildcard at his disposal, and Rashford is primed for that role this time. If he really was simply brought along to briefly sample the environment, why start him against Australia? Hodgson is too shrewd not to have known what impact a positive performance in that game would have on public perception.
The other option in the England manager’s artillery is to cull another midfielder to accommodate five attackers, and Townsend is considered vulnerable if that happens because he was a late inclusion, fighting his way in courtesy of an excellent four months for relegated Newcastle. However, as the most natural winger in the current squad, cutting him would rid Hodgson of a useful tactical tool.
Also being spoken about in more hushed tones is the possibility of Barkley paying the price for a poor second half of the season and some fitness question marks of his own by being pushed aside to allow Sturridge and Rashford to both squeeze in. There would still be plenty of attacking midfield alternatives if he was jilted, including Townsend, Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli, but the Everton man is well liked by Hodgson, who utilised him in every encounter at World Cup 2014.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.