Capello still unsure of World Cup squad

At Wembley

Fabio Capello now has 90 minutes of action to put his final pieces in place for the World Cup - which still leaves time for an experiment that may add the extra dimension England will need in South Africa.

England's players embarked on a low-key Wembley lap of honour after an unconvincing 3-1 win against Mexico accompanied by the wholly inappropriate strains of Take That's syrupy singalong "Rule The World".

It was in keeping with the upbeat party mood Wembley seemed intent on creating for England's farewell appearance on home soil before the World Cup, but hardly an accurate forecast based on a display riddled with flaws and uncertainty.

Perspective and context are always in danger of being sacrificed amid the hysteria of a World Cup countdown. So to write off England's hopes on the basis of an unfamiliar line-up's struggles against Mexico would be as ludicrous as pronouncing them as sure-fire winners should they thrash Japan in their final warm-up game on Sunday.
It was a night when the importance of those missing, namely the Chelsea trio of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole - was brought into sharp focus.

And it was also a night that further exposed the folly of the infamous - and hastily ditched - "Capello Index", the coach's ill-conceived plan to provide online performance data on England's players two hours after a game.

What would the "Capello Index" have made of this? Some of England's lesser lights might have required a long lie down in a darkened room after reading the damning verdict.

But there are questions for Capello to ponder in the days before he names his final squad on 1 June - and a compelling case for the Italian to try an extra touch of tactical finesse that has been playing on his mind in recent times.

Capello worked with Steven Gerrard operating just off Wayne Rooney in England's high-altitude training camp in Austria. All the evidence suggests this is worth further investigation before the serious stuff starts in South Africa.

Peter Crouch's 21st goal in 38 England appearances strengthened his claims to partner Rooney in Capello's favoured 4-4-2 system - with Glen Johnson's superb strike completing the scoring - but a potential partnership between Rooney and Gerrard has rich possibilities.

Gerrard's deployment on the left contributed to a horribly imbalanced England midfield in the first 45 minutes against Mexico. The Liverpool captain's almost gravitational pull into the middle left Leighton Baines exposed and highlighted the shortcomings of the central midfield partnership of James Milner and Michael Carrick.

Once Gerrard exchanged places with Milner, England at least had more control over proceedings thanks to a more authoratitive figure at the heart of affairs.

Capello's recent selections have hinted he is at last prepared to contemplate life without Emile Heskey as Rooney's natural partner. And Rooney's development into an outstanding lone striker at Manchester United gives Capello and England extra strings to their bow. They should be utilised.

The Italian publicly stated recently he would always play with two strikers, but Capello has shown his willingness to be flexible by tempting Jamie Carragher out of England exile and retaining faith in Ledley King despite his many injuries - so why not bend tactically?

Gerrard's superior work from central positions means Capello should at least consider the bolder option of using him in support of Rooney, although much of this depends on Gareth Barry's latest fitness update on Tuesday.

If Barry is fit, Capello could partner him with Frank Lampard in the centre and use Milner on the left with either Aaron Lennon or Theo Walcott on the right. If Barry is not fit - and he has become central to Capello's thinking even after a subdued season at Manchester City - then there may be a vital vacancy in central midfield.

Michael Carrick's decline at Manchester United has been stark, so it came as no surprise to see him perform so poorly against Mexico. A player who prided himself on his ability to keep possession was too careless, conceding in dangerous positions on a night when he did his World Cup aspirations no good.

Tom Huddlestone breezed through his substitute's appearance in laid-back fashion, and Capello may be tempted to give a final audition to the urgency and competitive instinct of Scott Parker against Japan.

If Barry's injury rules him out, it is all up for grabs and Parker ended the season in outstanding form for West Ham United.

If the problems in midfield were obvious, then Mexico's ability to unlock England's defence with monotonous regularity, particularly in the first half, will have pained Capello even more.

This is where context comes in and perspective must be applied - yes it was a disappointing performance, but there must not be a rush to start writing England's World Cup obituaries on the evidence of a friendly.

Lampard will inject added quality and experience when he returns, while Terry and Cole will provide a more assured appearance to England's defence than it had against Mexico.

Spurs captain King had mixed fortunes on his return to the England line-up after three years. He scored the opening goal, but too often looked ponderous, easily turned and also lost his man for Mexico's goal, scored by Guillermo Franco.

King has played and trained to an unprecendented degree in recent times and looked a jaded figure in defensive situations. Whether Capello sees this as terminal when it comes to World Cup selection remains to be seen, but he will miss out against Japan.

If Terry is certain to return alongside Rio Ferdinand, who also disappointed on Monday, then Cole is effectively irreplaceable at left-back given the performance of Everton's Baines.

Capello's decision to give Baines the full game suggests he has settled on him as Cole's understudy, but a player who is impeccable at club level was so poor that Aston Villa's Stephen Warnock may yet get the chance to make a late dash for South Africa.

England's lack of balance did not help Baines, but he had a torrid night at the hands of the pace and intelligence of the Mexicans. He is better than he showed against Mexico, but the international arena is unforgiving. Failings are brutally exposed.

Capello was typically deadpan afterwards, but gave some of the game away when he opened with: "I'm happy for the result." The pointed pause, left for others to fill in the blanks, was telling.

One week remains before England's plane leaves London for South Africa. If Capello had a hunch about a potential partnership between Rooney and Gerrard, now is the time to act upon it.

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1 komentar:

  1. JoshT said...

    For starters, Lennon has to go ahead of Walcott. The Spurs winger has had a fantastic season and before injury was one of the premiership's most consistent performers. Unlike Walcott he not only beats players with his pace, but also delivers a much better final ball. Whilst neither are going to ever be up there with the likes of Messi, Lennon definitely offers more.