Since Hodgson named his squad last week, Tottenham’s Michael Dawson and Gary Cahill of Chelsea have both withdrawn through injury, while Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand ruled himself out, citing fitness concerns.
With Phil Jagielka of Everton already sidelined by injury, it leaves Hodgson desperately short of experience in the centre of defence. It may matter little against perennial underdogs San Marino, but today’s game also presents an opportunity to tune up for Tuesday’s taxing visit to group leaders Montenegro.
Of the centre-backs at Hodgson’s disposal, only Joleon Lescott has won more than 10 caps, with Chris Smalling, Steven Caulker and the uncapped Steven Taylor boasting just five international appearances between them.
One solution may be to slide Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick into the defensive line. Carrick has played at centre-back on occasion for his club, and with England expected to dominate possession at Serravalle’s Stadio Olimpico, his ease on the ball may prove more useful than the nous of a seasoned defender.
England currently trail Montenegro by two points in Group H and their last outing saw them overcome World Cup hosts Brazil 2-1 in a friendly at Wembley Stadium in February.
Today’s game will provide an altogether different test, against a team who have not mustered a goal in a competitive fixture since a 3-1 loss to Slovakia in Oct 2008. However, despite the thankless nature of England’s task, with Montenegro looming on the horizon, Scott Parker says the visitors cannot afford to let their focus slip.