Roy HODGSON is again considering using Wayne Rooney on the left wing as he anticipates a "baptism of fire" for his young England players in the Euro 2016 qualification campaign that starts with tomorrow's testing away fixture in Switzerland.
England have trained in a number of formations in recent days - including, a 4-2-3-1 line-up with Rooney on the left, Raheem Sterling in the middle and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right behind Danny Welbeck.
Alternatively, England have looked at a diamond midfield behind Rooney and Welbeck as a strike partnership - with Sterling at its tip. Either way, it appears the 19-year-old Liverpool player is emerging as England's key man.
Hodgson has said Rooney will be England's "centre-forward" in Basel - a likelihood strengthened by the thigh injury that has ruled out Daniel Sturridge - but he has practised with alternative approaches. Hodgson could adopt 4-2-3-1 with Rooney as the striker and Welbeck, who has pleaded to play as centre-forward, on the left.
Sturridge's injury, the extent of which is still being assessed by Liverpool, has reduced Hodgson's options as he admitted his young squad is under increasing scrutiny in this qualification campaign after a disappointing World Cup.
"They're getting a baptism of fire, many of them are coming in very young and into an air of negativity," Hodgson said of a squad that includes young players such as Calum Chambers and John Stones following several international retirements. "Maybe I'm asking for too much of an ideal world here - and from you all (the media) - but let me make the point that in an ideal world it would be nice to look at the squad as it is now, look at the individual players and the types of talents they are, at how quickly they've come from being total unknowns to being accepted as respected England players. They would agree with me that they need a bit of time, these players.
"They're not going to suddenly step in and be Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard or John Terry or Ashley Cole. They might need a bit of time before they reach that level," he added.
Hodgson has awarded Rooney the captaincy despite questions over his form and role in the team, but the manager conceded his most experienced player's future may eventually lie in a deeper midfield role.
"I'm not prepared to dispute that, in time, he could move back," Hodgson said. "But he will be playing the centre-forward position on Monday and we'll see after that. When it comes to those six (forward players) and how do we play - in a diamond, one in front of the four, two up front, I'm lucky the players I've got can do all those things."
That first statement would appear to be unequivocal about where Rooney will feature in Basel, but Hodgson has looked at other options in training, even though playing him on the left failed in Brazil.
Although facing Switzerland - vulnerable at the back, powerful in midfield and vibrant in attack with Xherdan Shaqiri - in Basle will probably be England's toughest tie it might actually, also, be a restorative match for Hodgson. The 67-year-old had a spectacularly successful three years in charge of the Swiss, taking them to the 1994 World Cup, defeating and drawing with Italy along the way, elevating them to third in the Fifa rankings.
"We are building this game up now and I don't have any reason to knock it down, but on the other hand, it's the first qualifying game," Hodgson reiterated. "We want to get off to a good start, we want to play well, we want to win but if we win it by 3-0 that still doesn't mean to say we're going to win the Euros in 2016. I wouldn't for one minute dream of going into this game trying to suggest to the players: 'Look, we need to win this game it's very, very important after the World Cup'.
"There's an air of negativity, as you said, we can't get away from that, this is an opportunity to play well and to help ourselves and help the environment. But if it doesn't happen it still won't necessarily impact on 2016 because they have to come here as well and there's nine more matches to play and we will, with this group of players, who are a very young group of players, we will be in Euro 2016. Two years down the road, with the work we're doing together, I would like to think we'll be a better team."
Sunday Indo Sport