Matt Murray: Sterling can be on the money for Roy

I really hope Roy Hodgson picks Raheem Sterling tonight.

Soccer - FIFA World Cup 2014 - Group D - England v Italy - England Training and Press Conference - Arena da Amazonia
Plenty to ponder – England manager Roy Hodgson is weighing up whether to play flying winger Raheem Sterling from the start tonight

The speculation about the Liverpool winger’s inclusion has obviously intensified with Danny Welbeck’s injury problem but, even before that news broke, I could not resist the thought of Sterling playing against the Italians.

There is a freshness and an excitement about his play at the moment that you just feel he can really get at the Italians and unnerve them at the back.

I guess the debate might be whether you start with him or bring him on as an impact later in the game when players are tiring and the game is a bit more stretched.

That’s the difference between perhaps Sterling giving us a lead to defend or coming on to chase the game later.

But then you find yourself thinking ‘Will it be too late?’

He is playing without fear; I do not think he will spend much time worrying about the occasion.

And I think the Liverpool man could fit perfectly into one of the ways I can see England winning this game.

I hope we lay a trap for Italy which would give us the chance to exploit a potential weakness.

They do like to bring the ball out from the back in their own time and tempo and the conditions in Manaus mean that we are not going to be able to play a full-on pressing game like we might see in the Premier League on a Saturday afternoon.

But that should not stop us trying to surprise them.

I would like to think England will go into the game prepared to lull the Italians into thinking we are sat deep while having a plan, at a given signal, to suddenly fly at them and nick the ball.

Pirlo is seen as a central figure in all this, which is why we are hearing about Wayne Rooney doing a job on him in between midfield and Daniel Sturridge.

That role could also apply to Sterling. But this is a team which is armed with pace and that gives us the chance, at the flick of a switch, to try to press the Italians out of their comfort zone.

If it works, great; let’s see if we can get some joy from the stolen ball.

If not, then we should still have the ‘legs’ to retreat back into our shape.

The bench is going to be so important in this World Cup and I would be surprised if we don’t see Ross Barkley, pictured left, figuring in this way. Set-pieces are a vital area of today’s game and Barkley is the sort of player who can win free-kicks in dangerous areas, especially towards the end of a game.

It doesn’t feel right for England to be going to a World Cup with everyone thinking it will be a success just to get out of their group, even though it is a difficult one.

That shows that we’re not in a good place at the moment.

But everything Roy has been able to control he has prepared for, as we knew he would.

He’s been unlucky in that he didn’t quite get the weather he wanted in Portugal, then had a session cancelled in Miami because of rain and a thunderstorm interrupt the last match against Honduras.

All the things he can control, though, I’m happy with.

I know there has been a lot of innovation in readying the players for the climate and he’s given all the players who needed it game-time.

Rooney was one, Phil Jagielka another; I saw him late in the season after he had missed a good chunk of Everton’s campaign because of injury and he was obviously playing catch-up.

I also love the fact that there is a much more ‘open’ feel to England’s approach to this tournament.

There is a lesser pressure of expectation than in South Africa four years ago and that has clearly helped the mood of the squad in the build-up to the tournament. But it’s good to see England not locked behind four walls but going out to engage the locals.

This might not seem important but it is. It helps the ‘feelgood factor’. When you are a long way from home and in a strange environment under big pressure, how you are treated and how you engage with the local fans is important.

I get the sense there is a groundswell of support building up for this England which helps the lads enjoy the experience so much more.

I can’t, in all honesty, put them in my top four teams for the tournament.

I’d have to go along with the majority view and stick Brazil as an obvious favourite after they made a winning start against Croatia on Thursday.

I think the tournament needs a good Brazil because you can’t have missed the stories of social unrest behind this World Cup and the host nation badly needs its team to do well to get everyone focused on the football again.

I like Belgium with their enormous array of talent.

They could be awesome even missing the likes of the injured Villa star Christian Benteke.

You’ve got to tip Spain because they’ve won the three last major tournaments and, while some folk reckon they are fading a touch and not hungry any more, don’t believe it. That only makes them want it more.

Argentina would be my fourth pick because of a certain Lionel Messi and a South American World Cup.

The great man ‘only’ needs a winner’s medal to match Maradona in his country’s eyes.

England? One step at a time. But I watch tonight’s game hopeful we will surprise one or two.

My head goes for a draw but my heart’s call is a 1-0 England win.