England qualified for Euro 2012 on Friday night in familiar unconvincing circumstances. Despite the second half meltdown, there have been some encouraging signs for England this qualifying campaign. The main one being the settled formation in the 4-2-3-1 and the emergence of a solid core featuring Joe Hart, Terry and Cahill, Scott Parker and Rooney and Young. Despite this however, the starting line-up is far from settled for next summer. There are still issues that need to be addressed and gaps to be filled…
The last four England matches have featured three different right-backs; Glen Johnson, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. Each have offered something positive and something negative to the side. The two J’s offer adventure and options going forward. Johnson, however has continually forgotten to actually defend in an England shirt. Similarly, Jones does not look as natural at right-back as he does at centre-back, often caught out by any purposeful wing play. Smalling on the other hand, looks like the safest option. Not spectacular and not obviously flawed. For this exact reason we should probably steer clear; for too long we have gone with the safe option, choosing stability over potential has too often been the English way. Too often when looking for goal we have had a Gary Neville or a Stuart Downing on the pitch. We need all the adventure we can get. Kyle Walker is also another exciting player, who has yet to have his defensive credentials called into question. If his good form continues for Spurs he may well be wearing the white of England as well by the summer.
Parker’s Midfield Partner.
Parker must be an automatic starter by now. He has been the perfect link between defense and attack, keeping his passing simple and accurate while still covering ground and breaking up play. To be honest, it is a sad indictment of English football it has taken this long for Parker to earn his place. Since he started dominating opposition midfields at Charlton average and sub-average midfielders’ such as Joey Barton, Jordan Henderson, Michael Carrick, Nicky Butt and Jermaine Jenas have been placed ahead of Parker. The gap here for England only really exists due to doubts over Jack Wilshere’s fitness. Wilshere was one of the best midfielders in the premiership last year and gave world-class performances in the home matches against Man Utd and Barca. If Wilshere does fail to recapture his fitness and best form this season however then Capello will have a problem. Does Barry really deserve another chance at the highest international level after being schooled so comprehensively in South Africa? Does Gerrard work as a sitting midfielder? (no) Does Lampard work as a sitting midfielder? (NO). Is Carrick really that shit? (YES!)
This is an exciting problem for England. For the first time in a while England have a wealth of wingers playing for the top clubs. Adam Johnson at Man City, Ashley Young at Man Utd, Theo Walcott at Arsenal and Stuart Downing at Liverpool. While normally central players Gabriel Agbonlahor and Danny Wellbeck can also play out wide. Adam Johnson has often made things happen for England in his appearances mainly as a substitute. His directness and dribbling can often inject some much needed energy into the side. Unfortunately, he plays for the same club as David Silva and Samir Nasri and thus may not get enough game time to justify a starting berth for England. Walcott still flirts with being both brilliantly effective and comprehensively useless. His performane over the two halves in Montenegro typifies this perfectly. Downing is another one of those who is just too plain, too clean-cut and too English. Ashley Young is the only clear and obvious selection choice at this point, a strong contender for player of the season so far.
The Central Front Two.
Capello’s current system of 4 – 2 – 3 – 1 requires one striker to play deep, as a trequartista who is involved with the midfield, and one who plays off the defence, high up the field and is ready to put away the chances the creative trio behind him creates. Rooney playing deep and Bent playing high seems to be the choice Capello is favouring at the moment, but doubts still linger. For one, Rooney will be absent for the first two matches of Euro 2012 due to his latest act of brainlessness. Is there a fitting replacement for this position, or will England have to revert to two strikers up front? If so, who should play? It has to be between Daniel Strurridge and Danny Wellbeck. Anyone who suggests to you that Andy Carroll, Kevin Davies, Bobby Zamora or Jay Bothroyd are viable options is someone whose opinion you can disregard forever. Wellbeck and Sturridge have both proven this season that they possess the skill, intelligence and dynamism to play and score amongst the best players at the highest level. As long as he keeps his phenomenal consistency up, Bent will probably still get the nod to start. But Capello has a big decision to make on the group of strikers he takes with him. Wellbeck and Sturridge would be progressive choices, exciting young strikers you can actually play. To take the lumps like Carroll or Zamora would be a depressing indictment of his belief in the teams capabilities. Crouch and Defoe meanwhile have had their chance, let’s not repeat the same mistake.
My Personal Choice for Euro 2012:
CF (no.10): Rooney.
Striker (no.9): Bent.
Subs: A Johnson, Barry, Jones, Lescott, Lampard, Sturridge, Stockdale.