England Camp Focus – Capello to cement the midfield against Japan

The overall feeling following England’s win against Mexico was there for all to see in the many press reports immediately after the game and is one which is reportedly shared by the Head Coach, Fabio Capello. A 3-1 score line against a strong Aztecas team, on the face of it, appeared a good result especially in the context of the Netherlands 2-1 win against Javier Aguirre’s side on Wednesday. However, it was the manner of the display which has most struck a chord with Head Coach and fans alike.

On taking his squad back to the Austrian Alps for more altitude training Capello has reportedly gone back to basics working with his team in a 4-4-2 formation and concentrating on such things as ball retention and pressing the play high up the pitch. Prior to the Mexico encounter it was reported that Capello had worked with his players through much of the training sessions with a 4-5-1 formation – it may now seem that the Italian believes this may have been at the heart of his sides performance on Monday night, one where there was a clear lack of cohesion. If Capello has gone back to basics in training then it is reasonable to assume that he will do this against Japan this weekend in England’s last warm-up match before the tournament starts for real. If this is to be the case then the side that the Italian picks to face the Japanese may well give the fans the closest indication of the team that will begin the campaign against the United States on June 12 at Rustenburg’s Royal Bafokeng Stadium.

Recent reports suggest that Gareth Barry’s recovery is well on course and the Manchester City man may make the plane to South Africa, although it is also reported that he may not be fit enough to start the first group match. Therefore one of the biggest questions still remains unanswered by Capello – as to what will be the make-up of England’s midfield come June 12. Two things are for certain, one being that Frank Lampard will start in the centre and the second being that Capello will provide him with a partner – regardless of whether Capello opts for 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 he will clearly have two central midfielders playing alongside each other.

Following Michael Carrick’s dismal display against Mexico the Manchester United man looks to have played himself out of a starting berth and even a seat on the plane such has been his fall from grace in the latter stages of the domestic season. What of Carrick’s partner against Mexico – James Milner? One of the biggest criticisms to put against Milner’s performance against Mexico is that he failed to take the initiative, however, alongside Lampard it will be up to the Chelsea man to do this. Capello may feel that Milner deserves another chance to shine and to provide the Head Coach with a chance to assess a potential partnership with Lampard. Milner could well prove an influential figure for England considering the injury to Barry and any potential problems faced by Steven Gerrard following his training ground injury scare. It is for this reason that Milner should be given an extended opportunity against Japan.

Much of the debate concerning England is currently revolving around how to get the best out of Wayne Rooney – whether he should be provided with a partner, and if so who, or whether he should be provided with the opportunity to replicate his club role. This is certainly a hot topic but in the opinion of this writer the midfield and most notably the centre of midfield is something which needs to be right from the off regardless of the final formation selected by the Italian. It is no secret that England start their campaign at high altitude so the midfield will certainly need to be 100% fit, but when examining the opposition it is clear that they have to be at the top of their game as well. During the United States’ triumph over Spain in last year’s Confederations Cup Bob Bradley’s side pressed and harried arguably the best midfield in international football causing players with such good ball retention to continually lose the ball in dangerous positions. If the USA is able to deliver a performance along these lines and in a similar manner to their last encounter in the altitude of Rustenburg it is imperative that England’s midfield does not lose the ball in the cheap manner seen so often at Wembley on Monday night.

With this opening encounter in mind Capello must send out his strongest XI at least for the first-half against Japan as the time for experimentation must surely be coming to an end. What has to be gained from this encounter is a strong team performance showing cohesion and the ability to work together as a unit. This is imperative to bring back the confidence in the team experienced at the end of the qualifying campaign. Whether the problems from the Mexico encounter can be amended within such a short period of time is a question that England must emphatically answer in Graz on Sunday afternoon.

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