England’s Roy Hodgson to shuffle his pack in Lithuania
England boss Roy Hodgson plans to assess his options in Lithuania after releasing five players from the squad for next week’s trip to Vilnius.
Hodgson announced after Friday night’s 2-0 win over Estonia – a ninth successive Euro 2016 qualifying win – that he will give senior figures a rest.
Michael Carrick and captain Wayne Rooney, who missed the victory in London through injury, will return to Manchester United immediately.
Joe Hart, Gary Cahill and James Milner, who all played 90 minutes against the Estonians, will also not travel.
"We have other players I need to see in that game," Hodgson said.
"Gary Cahill has occasional back problems and we were a bit concerned with: A, the flight and B, the artificial pitch.
"In a choice of taking him or Smalling alongside (Phil) Jagielka and (Phil) Jones, I went for Chris Smalling.
"Joe Hart is being left behind against his will, because he wants to play, so we can see Jack Butland.
"James Milner, I wanted to play Jonjo Shelvey in this game, so I don’t need James there, because I’ve got the players to cover."
Hodgson does not expect Rooney’s ankle problem or Carrick’s groin injury to keep the pair out of United’s fixture at Everton on Saturday week.
"I’m fully expecting to see both Michael and Wayne Rooney 100 per cent fit for Louis van Gaal next Saturday," said Hodgson, who confirmed Carrick had a fitness test on Friday morning.
Rooney was presented with a golden boot in recognition of becoming England’s record goalscorer – by Sir Bobby Charlton, the man whose record he beat – ahead of an uninspiring victory secured by goals from Theo Walcott and Raheem Sterling.
The performance of Everton’s Ross Barkley was one of the few highlights, particularly his sublime pass for Walcott’s opener in first-half stoppage time.
"We saw what he can do," Hodgson said.
Hodgson believes England should utilize, rather than marginalize, Barkley, whose ability and versatility have led to some debate over his best position.
He is often deployed as a central playmaker at Everton, but Hodgson is confident of using him in midfield.
"We think he’s got more strings to his bow," Hodgson said.
"It’s important we don’t just dismiss him and say ‘well, you can’t be in the team because we are playing with that position’.
"We need to use him as we did, as one of the three midfield players.
"He is perfectly comfortable with that. He just wants to play. He doesn’t feel he’s limited to a position."
Hodgson denied being critical of the 21-year-old in the past.
"I could be accused of being critical of all players of giving the ball away," he said.
"I, like all his managers, have had to work hard with him on his decision making in terms of when he struts his stuff, which is quite fantastic, and when he plays a little bit more simply.
"That’s just an aspect of a coach’s job with a very talented young player. It’s never been a problem.
"I don’t think I can ever be accused of having anything other than the utmost faith in him."
Hodgson rued the fact England did not score more, but was pleased to get a win which secures top-seed status for next summer’s finals.
"We were a bit unlucky that we didn’t score a few more goals," Hodgson added.
"But the most important thing – as I said to the players at half-time – is the victory, which is everything here.
"The ninth victory out of nine and the one which if I believe everything you (the media) are telling me – and I don’t understand the rankings system – that means we’re going to be seeded for the European Championships. That’s very, very important.
"We deserved our victory and I’m pleased that we got it."
Estonia coach Magnus Pehrsson felt his players coped well, but could not have been expected to do better against their more illustrious opponents.
He said: "What we tried to do is slow the game down and defend very well. We did that quite well.
"I think that the difference is of course just to look at where our players play and England players play. It was a tough game for us in that way.
"Even if we felt we followed our game plan, still when you are ambitious like I am and the team are, it’s always a bad feeling when you lose."