Speaking with RoM for the World Cup preview, Martin Lipton and Dom Fifield have discussed the inclusion of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in the England squad.
Martin Lipton, chief football writer for The Mirror
They are favourites of Roy Hodgson; and what might be hard for many United fans to get their heads around is that Hodgson regards these two from a very different perspective. While United fans have been accustomed to the security of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand for eight years, and wonder if Jones and Smalling are up to the job, Hodgson has never had the benefit of those kind of players at his disposal. He sees Smalling and Jones as two talented centre-backs – which they undoubtedly are – who can offer him cover at full-back. The configuration of his squad, with seven defenders instead of the standard eight, is based on that calculation.
The best centre-half in the England squad is Gary Cahill by some distance. It remains a mystery why United never tried to sign him, given how relatively late into his career he was still at Bolton Wanderers. He is coming to the peak of his powers and his athleticism and burst of pace gives him that get-out-of-jail card if he allows the striker to get away initially. He is a steady character too. It is noticeable that when some of the more sensitive types at Chelsea stick the headphones on and walk straight out after games, Cahill is always prepared to talk.
Smalling and Jones are both behind him, to my mind. Phil Jagielka’s place in the team is the more vulnerable, but he does complement Cahill by playing on the left side of the two and their form has been decent, especially in the 0-0 draw against Ukraine in Kiev in qualification. Centre-halves do tend to mature later and Jones, in particular, is only 22. Much as I am entertained by Roy Keane’s random and often arbitrary monstering of random players he happens to dislike, even he was stretching credibility by blaming Jones for being injured too much.
Dom Fifield, London football correspondent for The Guardian
The versatility that has dogged Phil Jones since he moved to United has probably earned him his inclusion in the England squad. Both he and Chris Smalling can operate at right-back if required as a back up for Glen Johnson, and the 22-year-old might also supplement numbers in defensive midfield if Hodgson feels he has to close down a contest. It may be that neither starts a match in Brazil, but they should benefit from the experience of a major finals.
Smalling has always been a Hodgson favourite, ever since he was secured from Maidstone while the manager was at Fulham. He is first-choice back-up for the Gary Cahill – Phil Jagielka central defensive partnership, but both he and Jones should be classed as ‘squad players’ at best. The reality is both have plenty to prove at this level, particularly against better quality opposition.
In the World Cup preview, they also discuss the importance of Wayne Rooney, England’s chances and Roy Hodgson’s suitability to the job. All profit to Trafford Macmillan Wellbeing Centre.