Roy Hodgson has backed John Stones to remain unaffected by the recent transfer speculation linking him with a move to Chelsea, revealing that the Everton defender will start for England –along with Jamie Vardy and Jonjo Shelvey – in their latest Euro 2016 qualifier against San Marino on 5 September.
Stones, 21, has rapidly grown in stature and influence during his two seasons at Goodison Park, impressing with the consistency of his performances at centre-back whilst forming a solid partnership with club captain Phil Jagielka. Such a run of form caught the eye of Jose Mourinho this summer, with Chelsea reportedly seeing three bids for his services rejected prior to the close of the transfer window, amid concerns over the decline of John Terry.
Although the former Barnsley youngster remains an Everton player due to Chelsea's interest being met with admirable resistance from Roberto Martinez and chairman Bill Kenwright, a desire to move to Stamford Bridge was made obvious by his decision to submit a formal transfer request.
As we have seen with the recent case of West Brom and Saido Berahino following Tottenham's failed pursuit of the striker, a player being denied an attractive move can often provoke a negative reaction and even have a major impact on performances. Hodgson, however, has praised Stones' mature handling of the situation and believes he will not allow it to affect him on the pitch.
In a press conference held prior to England's visit to the San Marino Stadium in Serravalle, he said: "I can say that Jonjo Shelvey will start the game, as will John Stones and Jamie Vardy. I am not prepared to fill in the blanks. Stones has done very well and the way he has handled the transfer speculation has been remarkable. It won't affect his play."
For Vardy, a second international cap to follow up a cameo in the goalless draw against the Republic of Ireland in June will be just reward for his fantastic form with Leicester over recent months. Shelvey, meanwhile, will be making his first appearance for the national side since debuting in the 5-0 rout of San Marino at Wembley almost three years ago.
The other major talking point ahead of England's fourth meeting against Pierangelo Manzaroli's minnows in the last three years concerns Wayne Rooney. The Manchester United striker is currently joint-second alongside Gary Lineker on his country's all-time scorers list and requires just one more goal to move level with the legendary Bobby Charlton on 49.
While many are expecting him to break the record in a likely goal glut this weekend, Hodgson has no concerns over when it will finally happen. He added: "[The record] is not something we talk about because it is obvious Wayne will break it. When he does it will be a proud moment. At the moment his main concern is to win the remaining matches we have in qualifying. I won't mind if he doesn't score as long as we win them all."
Although England were recently leapfrogged by neighbours Wales in the latest Fifa rankings, they are currently one of only two teams to still boast a 100% qualifying record on the road to France. A 4-0 win over Lithuania in March was followed by a 1-1 friendly draw against Italy, while their last qualifier saw a brace from Jack Wilshere help secure a slightly nervy 3-2 victory against Slovenia in Ljubljana. Hodgson's side host nearest challengers Switzerland next week before rounding off their qualification campaign in October.