Wednesday’s international friendly with the Netherlands will mark exactly three weeks since the resignation of Fabio Capello as England manager, and my frustation over the whole episode has yet to subside as I suspect it hasn’t and won’t with many other fans. The manager’s departure was the icing on a horrid cake we’ve all tasted only too recently, two short years ago prior to our last major tournament, the 2010 World Cup. Going into South Africa that year we were still reeling from a captaincy debacle and also ruing the fact that potentially key players like Gareth Barry were not as fresh as we’d hoped because of injury. This time around the above has been essentially compounded, no captain, no manager, more significant injury concerns and the suspension of main man Wayne Rooney. All these respective issues have been much talked about in recent weeks, naivity being the last word assossicated to the majority of those concerned with the suspension, captaincy and management situations, and the injuries, as always, just plain typical of a pre-tournament run in.
Despite all of the above I still hope that the friendly with the Netherlands will not be an opportunity completely wasted under the circumstances. Of course the main talking point with the squad announcement was the call up of Frazier Campbell. Whilst naturally you are happy and pleased for any player to be given an international chance, it still ultimately sustains for me one of the biggest problems with Capello’s reign, dishing out far too many caps. Whilst I acknowledge that Capello had stated from the start of his tenure that he would draft players “in form”, the building and continued structure of a team is never going to be as substancial as it should be long term if too many are brought in. I look back at previous inclusions such as Jay Bothroyd, Jordan Henderson and Matt Jarvis to name but three and sigh at the fact it was a wasted moment where a starting eleven should have been further consolidated instead of being juggled.
Wayne Rooney’s suspension, Darren Bent’s sudden injury and the neglect of out of form target men Peter Crouch and Andy Caroll leave the striking department looking bare of the usual suspects, but in Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck we’ve got two strikers who have been consistant throughout the season at two top clubs, and the incorperation of Frazier Campbell should not disrupt a setup we should strive to lock down with these two. As a combination I think they could be a real threat to defenses, a solid mix of strength and pace, and a knack for getting a variety of goals. It’s more likely that one of them will be combined perhaps with Ashley Young and Theo Walcott flanking them, either way it should be cemented against the Netherlands, and also in the subsequent friendlies. I certainly don’t want to take anything away from Campbell who has performed fantastically since returning from injury for Sunderland, but the other two strikers have crucially had more game time, big match situations and a taste of the action with the full squad already, the initial inclusion justified with successful spells on loan at Bolton and Sunderland respectively last season. Wayne Rooney should feature in the later stages of these upcoming games to retain an England presence, but should not be a starter in any. Tampering with all four strikers too much could leave us stroking our chins and lacking a concrete plan come the early stages of the Euro’s.
The appearence of Theo Walcott and Stewart Downing amongst the list of names serves equally as irritating as the striking situation. The pair have delivered far too many headache-inducing performances this term, the reoccuring theme of locating great positions in the final third before criminally wasting the end product being deja vu to supporters week in and week out. When they do get it right, they are usually the best players on the pitch, but the ratio simply isn’t high enough. For me I’ve always believed Aaron Lennon is a more effective player, technically just as fast and faring better when getting to the byline It’s a shame he has not got in ahead of his North London rival, understandable though to an extent because of his lack of game time with Tottenham recently. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a player I can certainly see eclipsing Walcott in the very near future, the decision to not include him this time around has been deemed harsh by some given his form, but with his lack of experience and a focus on stability at this time I think it makes sense. With a bit of luck Walcott’s two goals in the crazy derby game on Sunday will inspire confidence and instigate an improved run of form.
On the other flank I find it, like I always have done, baffling that Stewart Downing is included considering we have a fully fit Ashley Young and Adam Johnson at our disposal. Yes Ashley Young’s form has dropped off since his explosive start to the season, and yes Adam Johnson has been subject to a fair bit of shuffling and some public critisim from his club’s manager, but on the day I’m convinced both are going to always deliver far more than the usually ineffective Downing. Crucially I think both players can adapt better to either a conventional 4-4-2 formation hugging the touchline or more direct 4-4-3 or 4-2-3-1 options providing more direct support to the central striker.
Looking through the selection of defenders I am suprised Joleon Lescott has not been called up to partner Gary Cahill in central defense. In the abscence of John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Michael Dawson, Lescott would for me be more preferable than Phil Jones who has featured less reguarly in that position for Manchester United or Chris Smalling for that matter, who seems to look more comfortable at full back. Even with the withdrawal of Kyle Walker, competition for full back places within the squad looks very strong, but Stuart Peace should ensure we continue with the familiar defensive unit, Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole featuring throughout the vast majority of the game, along with Cahill and whichever Manchester United option he decides to go with.
I’ve referred to it enough times but consolidation is a must Wednesday night. Unless the unlikely happens and we gather a formidable lead, or it goes the other way and we take a pasting, tactial experimention and the infamous vast substitions usually a given in these friendly occaisions should be kept to an absolute minimum as long as we are (hopefully) competitive with the Dutch. It’s a big test for England, let’s hope we can pass it and inject some much needed reassurance and positivity.
Johnson Cahill Jones Cole
Walcott Sturridge Young