England Camp Focus – Key Premier League encounter provides clues to provisional squad

With Fabio Capello set to name his provisional squad for the World Cup next week there is still much in terms of the playing staff which hangs in the balance.

The England captain, Rio Ferdinand, featured for Manchester United for six or so minutes against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light last weekend and managed 27 minutes at Upton Park for Tony Carr’s testimonial match, 7 minutes more than was permitted by his club boss. The appearance at Sunderland was his first for United since April 11 highlighting the growing injury concerns over one of England’s truly world class players. England doctor, Ian Beasley, has been instructed to visit Manchester United, amongst other clubs, in order to check on the fitness of Ferdinand, and also Wayne Rooney, Wes Brown and Owen Hargreaves, amid growing concerns about the fragility of much of this current crop of England players.

Injury aside there is still much to play for in terms of making the provisional squad with this week’s match at the City of Manchester Stadium between Manchester City and Tottenham extremely difficult to overlook. Between the two sides there were a total of eight players on show hoping to play their way into Capello’s provisional squad and one notable absentee with Joleon Lescott unable to make the bench for City. The big performance on the night came from Ledley King with the Tottenham captain putting in the kind of imperious performance to show why he is so highly rated by the England boss. On such a pivotal night for both clubs a leader was required to step up and ensure his side did everything they could to grab that fourth spot – King reveled in this role with partner Michael Dawson. The performance from King was made all the more impressive due to the fact it was his second in the space of five days, something which considering the nature of his knee troubles is a very rare occurrence.

The injury problems suffered by Ferdinand may well play against King, however, as some may view it a huge risk to take both of them to South Africa but Capello is seemingly ready to take this risk believing that both players can be adequately managed. Dawson is also expected to make the provisional squad following a fantastic second half of the season but whether he makes the full squad may well depend on his partner and captain at club level. The other big news following the match at Eastlands was the ankle injury suffered by key midfielder Gareth Barry. At first glance the injury seemed minor but following the scan on Wednesday, Barry is required to attend a specialist appointment on Friday to reveal the full extent of the damage. It is thought the injury could rule him out for anything up to three weeks or for the entire tournament. The problems with Barry and with Frank Lampard the only consistent midfielder throughout this season may open the door of the provisional squad to the likes of Scott Parker, the West Ham man having proved inspirational over the last few weeks of the season.

The wide midfield berths of the England squad have also been cause for debate through much of the season with only James Milner enjoying a consistent campaign, although much of it has been in the centre of midfield. Theo Walcott looks set to be certain of a place and following the injury to David Beckham it is likely that Capello will go for another winger with pace. Following Aaron Lennon’s first start since December on Wednesday and his at times marauding appearance for 70 minutes he may well have played his way back into the provisional squad at least. With the 30-man squad enabling Capello to run the rule over certain players he has not before had in his clutches there is always the potential for a surprise inclusion with many tipping City’s 22-year-old winger Adam Johnson to make the grade. Johnson has impressed since his January move to the blue side of Manchester with many feeling on current form he is likely to get the nod not only for the provisional squad but also for the full squad over the likes of Joe Cole and City teammate Shaun Wright-Phillips. In the opinion of this writer Johnson shows not only the ability but also the confidence to make the step up and have an influence at this level.

If there is still much uncertainty surrounding the make-up of the full squad one thing which has been confirmed this week is that the Royal Bafokeng Sports Campus has been opened with all the required facilities ready for the England squad and the potential issues identified with the training pitches alleviated. The team base camp in Rustenburg is not only in close proximity to the Royal Bafokeng Stadium for England’s opening fixture but its state-of-the-art facilities will enable the England players to acclimatise to playing at altitude. This has been identified as a key requirement for Capello with the 23 players named in the final squad sure to be put through an intense training schedule prior to the opener on June 12.

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