Roy Hodgson, being unpredictably unpredictable in announcing his England squad for Brazil, has left a strange feeling about the side heading to the World Cup. Previously, his outstanding record at beating bad teams, drawing against decent teams, and losing to good teams had made perfect sense. For once, England have no expectation upon them whatsoever -- they'll go to Brazil, not embarrass themselves, and hope their younger players could do the job next time.
Instead, Hodgson has been brave and perhaps opened himself up to greater degrees of hope and hype than would previously have been expected. In appearing to trust in youth, England fans will not expect a successful tournament in one sense or another, and to play with a bit of verve and creativity. It's a bizarre state of affairs, and two clubs have been more responsible than anyone for driving that ambition. Firstly, Southampton. And secondly, of course, Liverpool.
Comparisons have been made suggesting Liverpool could be to England what Barcelona were to Spain, providing a core group of players for the national team that had an in-built cohesion developed from playing together in club competitions. Yet while nobody suggests that Liverpool and Barcelona are on the same level, let alone England and Spain, there are a few problems with the notion.
Firstly, Barcelona had provided for Spain some clear partnerships where players could work well together. Not only was there the Gerard Pique-Carles Puyol defensive partnership and Xavi and Andres Iniesta in midfield, but also Sergio Busquets providing the vital link between the two. Liverpool's only real partnerships are Daniel Sturridge's understanding with Raheem Sterling in attack, and Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson in midfield. It's doubtful whether either of those duos will be starting together in Brazil.
Glen Johnson and Sterling teaming up on the right flank is perhaps the most likely pairing to get going, with the problems that affect Liverpool feeding into the wider problem of the English squad -- for a group containing such a variety of talented players, it's a long way from being clear as to what the best starting eleven will be. Positional blind spots such as the lack of a true holding midfielder don't help, but a raft of fairly one-dimensional players, or in other cases such as Wayne Rooney and Gerrard, players with serious weaknesses which must be covered for, will make it hard for Hodgson to deploy his most dangerous weapons in the way he would most like.
In a wider sense, Liverpool have already more than done their bit -- Gerrard has shown that he can play a different role, one that England will find more useful, Henderson has been rediscovered, Sturridge has emerged as an extraordinarily dangerous striker and Sterling is far ahead of where a player of his age might have been. That should be plenty of help, but Hodgson will have to show what he failed to do at his old club -- to be able to find the best way to deploy his players. This is a talented squad, but it is far from one that can simply be pointed in the direction of the enemy and told to play.