Gary Lim: Barkley can shine in England's new-look midfield diamond
ENGLAND v LITHUANIA
(Tomorrow, 3.45am, Wembley Stadium)
The expected international debut of England's latest hotshot Harry Kane dominates the headlines.
The 21-year-old is Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier's pick for the Premiership Player of the Year award.
Former England striker Alan Shearer described Kane as the country's best striker in 20 years.
But, for all the hype over the Tottenham Hotspur star, the rules of the game have not changed.
It is in midfield where the most blood is shed and where battles are ultimately won or lost.
With the retirement of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, England manager Roy Hodgson faces tough choices in coming up with a new-look engine room.
Many had predicted that the Three Lions boss will build his team around Jack Wilshere, but his ankle ligament damage has forced a rethink.
Perhaps the frequency of the Arsenal player's injuries would sway Hodgson to tweak his Plan A for Euro 2016.
For the Euro 2016 Group E qualifier against Lithuania tomorrow morning (Singapore time) and the international friendly against Italy next Tuesday, Hodgson has turned to a man whose ability has not been appreciated by England managers over the years.
Michael Carrick may be 33, but he continues to pull the strings impressively for Manchester United this season and is now expected to do the same for his country for the first time in 17 months.
Given Wilshere's proneness to injury and his inconsistent form, Carrick appears to be Hodgson's best bet to lead the midfield.
The Three Lions' 100 per cent start to their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign was built on a midfield diamond and Hodgson is not expected to deviate too much from that system, save for an experiment here or there.
Like what he does for United, Carrick will play in his most natural position against Lithuania tomorrow, sitting at the base of midfield and setting the rhythm and pace.
At the tip of the diamond, Raheem Sterling is expected to roam behind Hodgson's front two of Wayne Rooney and Kane, if he starts the game.
There, the Liverpool forward-cum- winger can use his pace and energy to devastating effect.
His willingness to defend from the front should delight Hodgson, a manager who emphasises teamwork over individuality.
It is in the centre of the diamond where the two remaining slots still look up for grabs.
Jordan Henderson, by virtue of his form and improvement at Liverpool, is virtually a shoo-in for one of the slots.
His defensive qualities will provide some relief for anchorman Carrick.
At the same time, he offers plenty going forward, too.
His runs into the opponents' penalty box have been a feature of his performances for Liverpool and his recent goal-scoring form for his club augurs well for the Three Lions.
It leaves Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (both injured), Ross Barkley, Fabian Delph, Ryan Mason, James Milner, Andros Townsend and even Danny Welbeck to vie for one spot.
Of the lot, one player stands out - Barkley.
His brand of power and flair set him apart from the rest. With his industry, he doesn't compromise Hodgson's safety-first philosophy.
England's play has been criticised for being too "predictable" under Hodgson's charge and Barkley, with his speed of thought and attacking zest, can change that.
The Everton playmaker is regaining his confidence after going through a rough patch at Everton earlier this season and Hodgson is a firm believer in the 21-year-old.
When the chips were down in the games against Italy and Uruguay at the World Cup in Brazil last year, Barkley was the first option the England boss turned to.
Hodgson has no lack of ammunition in the middle of the park. It's a matter of picking the right men and drawing the best out of them.
A Carrick-Sterling-Henderson-Barkley midfield diamond would be a good start.
FIVE THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR
1 KANE OR WELBECK?
Eagle-eyed photographers spotted a scrap of paper in Roy Hodgson's hand during training on Tuesday which suggested the England manager would start with Harry Kane up front alongside Wayne Rooney against Lithuania.
Kane has scored nearly five times more Premier League goals than Danny Welbeck this year, but Hodgson is fiercely loyal to the players he has used during his two years as England boss.
Welbeck (above) is certainly one of them.
The Arsenal forward has played 28 times under the 67-year-old.
He is England's top scorer in qualifying with five goals and Rooney is known to enjoy playing alongside his old Manchester United teammate.
2 IS KANE ABLE?
If Kane does not start, he is sure to come off the substitutes' bench at some stage.
Expectations are high following Kane's (above) excellent season with Tottenham.
He started the campaign as third-choice striker, but has become the first name on the Spurs team sheet after a whopping return of 29 goals.
International football is a different challenge, though.
Kane will be on the field with men he has never played alongside before.
He managed to adapt for the Under-21s though, scoring eight goals in 10 appearances for the Young Lions.
3 WILL ROONEY BECOME A RECORD-BREAKER?
If Rooney (above) bags a hat-trick against Lithuania tomorrow morning (Singapore time), he will equal Sir Bobby Charlton's 49-goal England scoring record.
Since the heady days of Euro 2004, Rooney's international career has had more lows than highs, but he has matured into a strong leader of the pack and goes into the match in relatively good form.
So he will be confident of reaching the milestone either tomorrow morning or during Tuesday's friendly in Italy.
4 IS IT TIME FOR A CHANGE AT THE BACK?
Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka have been Hodgson's first-choice centre-back pairing for the majority of the last 18 months, but both players have struggled this year.
Cahill lost his place in the Chelsea team to Kurt Zouma for a while and Jagielka has been part of an Everton defence guilty of conceding 42 league goals this season.
Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have been in the international fold for four years, but they have played together at centre back for England just once - against Ecuador in Miami last summer.
The pair have looked fairly solid for Manchester United against Tottenham and Liverpool recently, so Hodgson may be tempted to make a change.
5 DOES JOE HART NEED TO BRING A DECK CHAIR?
Hart's 49th cap should be one of the easiest.
Lithuania are 94th in the Fifa rankings and it would be a huge upset if they even managed to score at Wembley tomorrow morning.
Coach Igoris Pankratjevas does not have many players to choose from as his country's population stands at just three million.
The current squad contain players who ply their trade in Kazakhstan, Israel, Poland, Romania and Russia.
One name which will be familiar to Rangers fans is that of their centre back Marius Zaliukas. - PA Sport.