Comment and Analysis
Roy's World Cup Mersey beat
As the clock ticks towards the date Roy Hodgson must select his 23 England players for the World Cup, Simon Wilkes urges him to pick players based on their form rather than their reputation.
Last Updated: 25/04/14 9:26am
When Roy Hodgson selects England's starting XI for the World Cup D opener with Italy, there is a strong argument for including up to eight players from Liverpool and Everton on the team sheet.
In preparation for this summer's showpiece, Hodgson has travelled the country to watch his squad contenders slug it out in one of the most thrilling title races in recent memory.
But no matter which cabinet the Premier League trophy ends up residing in come May 11, there can be no argument that Liverpool and Everton have been among the stand-out teams of the 2013-14 campaign.
The Merseyside neighbours have drawn praise aplenty from pundits and fans thanks to their unerring faith in fast, flowing, attacking football using forward-thinking full-backs and fleet-footed forwards.
The good news is that all these are available to Hodgson this summer - he just needs to be bold enough to pick them.
Brendan Rodgers has by and large stuck with a 4-2-3-1 formation this season having transformed England captain Steven Gerrard into a disciplined holding midfielder, while over at Goodison Park, Roberto Martinez has often selected a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 with Gareth Barry and James McCarthy in the holding roles and Ross Barkley given licence to thrill.
Marauding full-backs have been pivotal to both teams' success, however, with the likes of Leighton Baines and Glen Johnson widely regarded as the best in the business not just domestically, but in the global arena.
In the last meaningful England international, against Poland and with World Cup qualification at stake, Hodgson employed the 4-2-3-1 formation and saw his Three Lions roar to a 2-0 victory at Wembley.
He reverted to a 4-4-2 for friendlies with Chile and Germany and lost 2-0 and 1-0 respectively. A 1-0 win over Denmark using the same formula hardly inspired belief among the England faithful that something magic could happen in Brazil, so here's hoping he has learned valuable lessons from those deflating displays.
The main obstacle Hodgson needs to overcome when selecting his first-choice XI against the Italians is to pick players on form, rather than reputation. Four Manchester United players took to the field in that win over Poland, but will any other than Wayne Rooney survive the cull?.
When I selected my 23-man squad using the Sky Sports selector, I found I had no room for the likes of Ashley Cole, Andy Carroll, Jermain Defoe or Carrick - and believe now is the time to put England's dreams in the hands of young, hungry players who have delivered the goods all season.
Proposed England XI v Italy, Arena Amazonia, June 14 (4-2-3-1): Hart; Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines; Gerrard (c), Henderson; Sterling, Rooney, Barkley; Sturridge.
Goalkeeper: Joe Hart
The Manchester City keeper may not have had his best season but he is England's, and Hodgson's, undisputed number one so takes his place between the sticks. I plumped for West Brom's Ben Foster and Celtic star Fraser Forster as my back-up stoppers.
Defenders: Glen Johnson, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines.
Three of these took their places in the backline against Poland so are the men in possession of the shirts at the moment, and rightfully so after rock-solid campaigns for their teams.
Smalling was given the nod at right-back for that game but in my opinion will now do well to make the 23-man squad, let alone the starting XI, after a stuttering season with United. Johnson takes his place on the right flank, where his overlapping runs will be vital in providing width and stretching the Italian defence.
Jagielka may be lacking in World Cup experience but knows Baines' game inside out, with the impressive Cahill providing an aerial presence in both defence and attack.
Kyle Walker gets a place in the squad as does Southampton's Luke Shaw, with both second choice for the full-back positions.
Holding midfielders: Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson.
Gerrard has had one of his most influential seasons as a Liverpool player, which is saying something, and although Rodgers needs to be applauded for his management of his talisman, having Henderson alongside him in the engine room has been vital to Gerrard's successful transition.
Henderson provides the drive and determination Gerrard displayed in his pomp, rarely loses possession and also poses a goal threat. Carrick, Jack Wilshere and Frank Lampard have been tried alongside Gerrard, but it is his club colleague who should be first choice.
I'd personally take Lampard to Brazil to cover any injuries to Gerrard despite his lack of action at Chelsea, and would pinpoint Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as an energetic alternative for Henderson having been handed a central role for Arsenal this season.
Attacking midfielders: Raheem Sterling, Wayne Rooney, Ross Barkley.
It is this area of the pitch where Hodgson needs to be bravest, as he has a number of options. Welbeck's England record demands consideration, while Andros Townsend played a starring role in ensuring England will take the stage this summer and Aaron Lennon has shown glimpses of good form under Tim Sherwood.
Sterling's displays in Liverpool's charge towards title glory are simply impossible to ignore, though, and fielding him on the right so he can combine with Johnson is the ideal placement for him. Similarly Barkley gets the nod on the left flank where he can wreak havoc with Baines.
Both Barkley and Sterling have two good feet and a willingness to run at defenders at pace, which in turn leads to set-pieces and creates space in the attacking third.
Patient passing is key on the international stage, and Barkley has thrived under Martinez's tutelage in keeping possession, with Adam Lallana pushing him hardest for his place in the team.
The temptation is to play Rooney as the leading man, but his tendency to drop deep to ensure he sees plenty of the ball means he is more suited to the No 10 'hole' role.
Striker: Daniel Sturridge.
Sturridge has been a revelation for the rampant Reds this season, and his 20 Premier League goals may have received more acclaim had it not been for the headline-hogging heroics of his SAS partner Luis Suarez.
Sturridge needs to be given the chance to show he can lead the line for his country as he is a clinical finisher, has a lethal left foot and sky-high confidence.
The formation is one he is used to, rather than asking him to play out wide, and in Rooney he has a fellow forward whose footballing pedigree matches that of Uruguay star Suarez.
I'd have Rickie Lambert in the squad to give Hodgson options in attack, as he'd thrive on the service provided by an attacking trio having linked up brilliantly with Lallana and Jay Rodriguez in a superb season for Southampton.
So that's the starting XI I'd like to see take the pitch on June 14 - let me know your thoughts and select your own team using the comments facility below. You can also select your 23-man England squad here.