As Premier League neutrals we are getting giddy about the new season for lots of reasons - here are five for each title contender. Firmino. Coquelin. Ozil. Rooney, SAS...
Rio is far from the finished article, but there is no doubt that he is intended for punditry stardom. Once you try and forget that awful 'merked' business, he's earned his shot...
* After we picked our version of the England squad, we sat back, checked the spelling then sighed. Because this is not a collection of players to light fire in your heart. It barely turns on one of those little camping torches that takes one AA battery. And this is the best England currently have. Sigh.
* Still, let's not get too distraught just yet about this squad. Surely nobody thought England were going to do much even before Hodgson's announcement, so have our expectations really changed with a slightly disappointing selection? Probably not, and they really shouldn't. #Hodgsonout was trending on Twitter within about ten minutes of the squad being announced, which tells us two things; 1) We've reached a certain point in society which is surely tricky to come back from, and it's not good, and 2) You shouldn't pay too much attention to the fountain of bullsh*t that the world of 140 characters brings us.
Indeed, some of the criticism that Hodgson has already received (one of the first mails that arrived at F365 called him a 'doddering old fool') is ludicrous. It's hardly his fault that he had a decidedly average collection of players to choose from. Having said that...
* Is Hodgson trying to prove to everyone that he doesn't hate Liverpool, honest!? Because that's surely the only explanation for the inclusion of Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson (on standby). The two have become a punchline even for Liverpool supporters this season, being the symbols of both their financial profligacy and crashing mediocrity. Perhaps Hodgson is taking his reputation as a man who gets the best out of average players to the extreme.
Writing this in the minutes after the announcement, I'm struggling to think of a logical reason for the selection of a winger with no goals and no assists this season (as many wags have pointed out, he's behind Tim Howard in that respect) and who took the most shots of anyone in the Premier Legaue without scoring a goal. All I've got is that, other than him, there isn't another attacking left-foot around other than Adam Johnson, who's hardly featured for Man City lately. That's it. Unless Hodgson has picked his squad based on the laws of probability - that one of the bloody things has to go in eventually.
* A similar theory applies to Michael Carrick. The Manchester United midfielder has, in spells, been excellent this season, but has once again been overlooked. We're not exactly fans of Carrick (he slows play down too much, his form in big games is suspect), but to be deemed behind Jordan Henderson in any reckoning (aside from 'resemblance to a confused child') is a kick in the pants.
* There's a troubling lack of real, quality passing ability in the midfield. Jack Wilshere's absence of course removes the primary candidate for this role, but there is an old boy in Manchester who has been knocking it around quite nicely. The selection of the 37-year-old Paul Scholes may have been a retrograde step in terms of planning for the future, but when there is such a dearth of his sort of player around, he looked like the only option for this role. A midfield trio of Scott Parker, Scholes and Steven Gerrard pretty much had all bases covered. Picking for the future is a sound theory, and it would've been lovely to select a whipper-snapper of a creative midfielder to give him some experience, but in this position there are no real such young whelps available.
* This list of players has caused some outrage, but surely England's chances of winning/not embarrassing themselves is Hodgson working to a plan. We're going to charitably assume he has a plan, and that he has selected the men he thinks can carry it out the best. England's primary hope is to knit together a motley collection of clodders in the hope of surpassing expectations. Fingers crossed, eh?
* So, Rio Ferdinand, then. Hodgson said it was purely a football decision, and that injuries were not a major concern, but also cited the fact that Ferdinand has only played once for England in the last year. Fine, but Steven Gerrard, the new/old captain, has played a grand total of 33 minutes (in the friendly defeat to Holland) since November 2010. Fitness must surely have been a factor, and while Ferdinand has been reasonably durable this season, it's perfectly reasonable to be suspicious of a man with his long-standing back issues.
Hodgson said that one of the reasons Ferdinand was omitted was because he wanted Phil Jones in to 'balance out' the defence, with Jones be able to cover in a couple of different positions. Perfectly sensible, but the implication there is that it was indeed a choice between Terry and Ferdinand. If that is true, and it was purely a footballing decision based on form, then it was a strange one.
Ferdinand has been, at worst, solid since January, and hasn't missed a game because of injury, including playing three games in a week on two occasions. Terry has shown he is not a man to be trusted for a couple of reasons - firstly he has put in some shocking performances (against Liverpool in particular), and secondly he's prone to inexplicable acts of brainless thuggery, as Alexis Sanchez will tell you, and thus represents something of a liability. We all know about England's problems with hot-headed players being sent off in big tournament games, so assuming Terry starts every game, we'll be spending the next two months with our fingers crossed.
* This is perhaps a rather moot point, given this decision was made months ago and led to Hodgson being here in the first place, but it's worth stating again what a horrible mess the FA made of the Terry/court case/captaincy farrago. The FA had to either decide that because of his impending court case, he should be suspended from duty and not allowed to play for England at all, or decide that he's innocent until proven guilty and let him be captain. For the record, my choice would be the former. Instead, we're left with this pointless middle-ground, and with the danger that Terry will once again appoint himself as the players' spokesman and say something stupid in a press conference.
* Jermain Defoe's selection pretty much sums up most of the squad - not brilliant, but who else were you going to pick? Ideally England wouldn't have a man who has only started 11 games this season, but for the 'goalscorer off the bench' selection, it was a very close thing between him and Darren Bent. We opted for Bent, but probably a toss-up between the two.
* Is Micah Richards the player with the biggest disparity between his standing with fans and media, and his standing with managers? Many regarded Richards as one of Fabio Capello's biggest blind spots, but Steve McClaren didn't fancy him either (not, I admit, necessarily something to base an argument around) and Roberto Mancini hasn't exactly built the Manchester City team around him. Indeed, while being second-choice to Pablo Zabaleta isn't exactly the most damning indictment of a player (no English right-back is as good as Zaba, and the switch was initially made when Richards was injured), it's telling that Richards was left on the sidelines for City's title run-in.
Observers who don't watch Richards every week probably like him because he looks good - he's big, powerful, quick and does some spectacular things both in defence and attack. The problem is that some of the spectacular stuff occurs because he has to recover from poor positioning, something that he seems not to have improved much since he emerged. That, along with the old questions about attitude, is why he's not in the squad.
* Andy Carroll was in our squad, and Sarah Winterburn wrote recently that his performances of late have given us some hope, but this just underlines what a shallow, shallow pool of striking talent England have. That we were getting so excited about four or five (at best) good performances towards the back end of the season is rather depressing. Still, Carroll, for all the fun we've had at his expense this season, remains a potentially explosive battering ram of a striker, is still only 23 and has shown some flickers of that talent in recent months. I'm clinging onto hope here, as you can probably tell.
* A quick word on Grant Holt. The two uncapped players in the squad were the third-choice keeper, largely because there are barely other options, and a hugely promising, explosive winger/midfielder who could be a mainstay of the team for years to come. These are the circumstances in which you gamble on a man who's never played at international level before, not on a 32-year-old who was at Shrewsbury three years ago and only has one (admittedly very good) top-flight season behind him.
* The selection of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is hugely encouraging. It's a real shame that Arsene Wenger didn't start him more times towards the back end of the season, because this kid looks like the real thing. He offers something different, and in a squad that can be largely summed up as a sea of shrugs, different is good.
* One slight concern - Hodgson said he picked Oxlade-Chamberlain partly on the basis of his fine performances against AC Milan and how well he dealt with Massimo Ambrosini and Andrea Pirlo. Sure, the Ox was very good in that game, but neither Ambrosini nor Pirlo played in that game, primarily because Pirlo doesn't play for Milan anymore. Oops.
* A small point. John Ruddy offered to postpone his wedding, due to be on the day of England's final warm-up game against Belgium, but Hodgson told him to go ahead. It shows a pleasant appreciation that there are indeed more important things to be worrying about than a friendly international. Of course, it would've been interesting if it was someone a little more important than the third-choice keeper, but still...it's nice.
Nick Miller - now available on Twitter