England Camp Focus – Timely return of Gareth Barry

Drawing your opening fixture of a World Cup campaign is by no means disastrous especially when the opener saw you face arguably the toughest opponents in your group. With two matches of the first round remaining against Algeria and Slovenia, Head Coach Fabio Capello will be confident of progressing to the Round of 16.

That is not to say he will be satisfied with England’s performance against the United States. Despite creating a good amount of chances and being unfortunate to concede, England at times were poor. They allowed Bob Bradley’s side to control much of the ball unable to impose themselves on the midfield battle. It was a strange performance from the Three Lions. Following the early goal and the way they were able to cut through the United States’ back-line in the opening exchanges, England looked to do this at every possible opportunity. There is nothing wrong with going for the jugular – the issue is England seemed to continually forego the midfield in search of the killer ball.

There is no doubt the attacking side of England’s game must be in evidence in the next two matches but they must take control of the ball in the middle of the park if they are to hone the skills to see them successful in the latter stages of the tournament. Allowing the United States to command the ball in this manner will not have pleased Capello who must be hoping Gareth Barry is fit to take his place in the starting XI for Friday’s match. Barry not only provides the shield in front of the back four, the Manchester City man has a fantastic ability to play the simple ball. This simple ball is not the much-maligned sideways pass in the style of David Batty from the 1998 World Cup. It is the ability to play a five yard pass, receive the ball back and lay it off again. Holding on to the ball, probing for that opportunity. Something which neither Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard seemed fully capable of on Saturday night.

Capello will be hoping England has eradicated the poorest performance out of their system and the usually tragic goalkeeping error has come at a stage when damage may be minimal. Looking at teams starting a World Cup badly but going on to be successful we need to look no further than four years ago, when Capello’s home nation struggled early on, peaking at the right time. This draw must therefore be seen in context. England arguably has the quality in the squad to make an impact on the tournament but for this to happen it is imperative Capello himself gets the major decisions correct. This is not something the Italian did on Saturday. The selections of Robert Green and James Milner can be leveled against Capello as can the decision to replace Milner so early on with Shaun Wright-Phillips when the much better option of Joe Cole remained warming the bench. Capello has since backed his decision to replace Milner but interestingly has not commented on the fact he chose the City man as his replacement.

The time for Capello to get these big decisions right comes this Friday with the match against Algeria and unfortunately for the Italian none of the key issues plaguing the squad before the tournament were answered during the match in Rustenburg. On the goalkeeping side Capello has to decide whether he sticks with Green amid injury concerns about David James which are reportedly not shared by the goalkeeper himself. James’ comments against Capello are being used by many as the yardstick to show discontent in the camp and certainly will do nothing to help his cause. If Green does start, Capello must hope he has banished any ghosts as another costly mistake cannot be tolerated.

The return of Barry may bring some stability to midfield proceedings but it does little to answer another issue in debate before the United States match – how to get the best out of Steven Gerrard. Gerrard’s goal highlighted his ability to affect play in and around the opposition penalty area which may suggest that he should be given the opportunity to link up behind Wayne Rooney. However, Capello’s reluctance to utlise two of his world class performers in their favoured positions and the performance of Emile Heskey means it is likely Gerrard will be marooned on the left-wing. Whether England retain the ball well enough to enable Gerrard and Rooney to link up as they did in many of the qualifiers may well depend on the fitness and form of Barry.

Whatever Capello decides come Friday’s match, it has to be correct as it is imperative England gain some momentum from two good wins to bring some confidence to the camp come the latter rounds. If this does not happen England’s presence at the business end of the competition may not materialise.

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