Crouch 56, 80 Wright-Phillips 75
The Premier League is the world’s finest exponent of direct attacking football, yet the England midfield quartet that lined up to face Egypt was distinctly lacking pace.
With a full strength midfield cohort to choose from, Fabio Capello’s selection of Steven Gerrard, Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard and Theo Walcott to start the match appears to signal his preferred selection for the World Cup. Of these four, only Walcott possesses what would be deemed ‘genuine pace.’ Upon his arrival Capello quickly identified the need for a midfield anchor to provide cover for a defence that was being exposed all too often prior to his tenure. Barry has occupied this role more than any other player under Capello’s reign and looks set to continue in the role in South Africa. With this selection, coupled with two strikers in an orthodox 4-4-2 formation, there is a necessity for two wide players with genuine pace in the midfield – a requirement neatly highlighted by the current defensive personnel.
At present England have at best a functional back line with Leighton Baines and Wes Brown performing well when defending, but offering very little going forward. England must prepare for a World Cup without regular first choices Ashley Cole and Glenn Johnson, who usually add an attacking dimension to the play. As such the personnel in midfield needs strong consideration Width and genuine pace are the antidotes to packed defences, and had England faced a more defensively organised team than Egypt, they may well have struggled to turn around the deficit. With Wayne Rooney having added heading to his already burgeoning repertoire, and Peter Crouch continuing his prolific international scoring record as a ‘super-sub,’ pace, width and accurate deliveries will provide far greater depth to England’s armoury.
Unlucky to miss out on a starting berth was Aston Villa’s in-form James Milner. Whilst Milner’s effort, industry and versatility mean that he has virtually booked his place on the plane to South Africa, his versatility could also prove to be the attribute that ensures he is not in the starting XI. Capello’s selection of Walcott showed a recognition of the need for pace and still not fully match fit, the youngster showed glimpses of the talent that brought a hat-trick on the way to a 4-1 demolition of Croatia. Similarly pushing for a start is Milner’s club team mate Stewart Downing. Since his move from Middlesbrough, he has grown in stature and worked on his deliveries and his weaker right foot, in doing so casting aside assertions that he is over-rated by virtue of being left-footed and English and making him a genuine contender for England. He could solve the long-running problem on England’s left-wing and add pace to the side – a factor that could see him edge out his Villa team mate in the pecking order.
Inevitably it is a tough task to drop Lampard or Wednesday’s captain Gerrard, but Capello still has work to do in terms of his midfield if he persists with the current formation and key personnel.