Where England stands
After an impressive comeback in Berlin but a tepid affair against the Dutch at Wembley, we now know a fair bit more about the qualities and faults of the England football team. For perhaps the first time since the 1998 World Cup, when then manager Glen Hoddle played (eventually) Michael Owen and David Beckham, England are a football side that is fun to watch. I have every confidence that Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane could form and even better strike partnership than the one Shearer and Sherringham forged at Euro '96, so long as current head coach Roy Hodgson has the confidence to start them both. Tottenham's Dele Alli has the potential to set the forthcoming European Championships alight, just as Paul Gascoigne did at Italia '90. The pace and technique of some of these players are better than the so-called golden generation that bored us all in the 2004 Euros and 2006 World Cup. That team, which admittedly had a far superior defence, got bogged down with a lack of balance on the flanks and two players in Gerrard and Lampard who were bizarrely elevated above Paul Scholes.
Perhaps similarly to the team Hoddle took to France in 1998, England's defence is the worry. Cahill is suspect in terms of pace and John Stones seems too capable of making mistakes. Granted, Chris Smalling has stepped up to the plate despite Manchester United's on-off season, unlike Manchester City's goalkeeper, Joe Hart, who for such a competent shot stopper seems overly nervous in an England jersey. His replacements are yet to have a long enough run in the side to know how good they are. We have exciting fullbacks, but as a Spurs fan I have seen the very worst as well as the very best of left back Danny Rose, who is great going forward but lacks awareness when hit on the break.
Yet there is no doubt that, while England's defensive frailties might rule them out of lifting a trophy this summer, the cup is more than half full. I sincerely hope that Hodgson sticks with the kids, especially holding midfielder Eric Dier, who could even play at centre back alongside Smalling.
I am not sure Rooney should be included in the squad. For once, it would be nice to take a top player who is fit, rather than hope in vain that a lengthy injury layoff, which he is currently enduring, will not affect him. Past history suggests it will, and in Vardy, Kane and Alli England already have the creativity to unsettle the very best. One thing is certain - if the team sheet has Milner's name on it then we know it is curtains before a ball is kicked.