England improve, but more is certainly possible

As the dust settles on an England friendly victory and a definite improvement in performance everywhere – except perhaps at right-back – what can manager Fabio Capello do to ensure things continue to look up for the Three Lions?

While the Italian’s team selection, and indeed squad, had strong elements of injecting youth – such as Jack Wilshere’s full debut and the selection of David Stockdale and Kyle Walker – and the quick, passing football in a five-man midfield was a marked improvement, had more players been selected to play in their club positions, the result may well have been an even more convincing performance from his players.

The selection of Wilshere in a holding midfield slot alongside Frank Lampard was much discussed prior to kick-off, and while the 19-year-old did as well as could be asked in an unfamiliar position, were he to have been deployed in a more attacking free-role, as he is by his club manager Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal man might not have been largely overshadowed by his Danish counterpart Christian Eriksen, who stole the show on Wednesday night. Indeed, both Wilshere and Lampard’s natural attacking intent meant that, while they were decent enough going forward, they were caught out on numerous occasions as Denmark, and Eriksen in particular, managed to steal a yard against uncertain defensive positioning.

Up front, while he found the net and performed well enough, Darren Bent is not best utilised as a lone striker. He is a goal poacher by trade, as evidenced by his countless impressive Premier League goal hauls, and in being asked to lead the line his effectiveness is muted somewhat. His most solid performances tend to be linked to playing off a creative or strong strike partner, and feeding off the chances made for him. A lone striker ideally has the strength to hold up the ball to create chances for both his teammates and himself, and also win his fair share of headers. While Bent can cope acceptably in this department, his best work comes from creating a difficult partnership for opposing defences.

Certainly, Wayne Rooney performed magnificently last season when Alex Ferguson asked him to play as the advanced forward, and sitting on the opposition 18-yard line as opposed to the half-way line where he has found himself on too many occasions recently for England. Yes, his skill set and natural mentality does suggest he drop deep to make chances, but when initially deployed in the hole he has the tendency to drop too far back to have any say in the game. Certainly defenders would rather see the danger man 50 yards away than in their faces. From this point of view, a Bent/Rooney strike partnership with both men threatening the centre-backs should, on paper, be a prolific alternative to one up top and one essentially in midfield. Indeed, should the future of English football, Wilshere, be asked to dictate play higher up the pitch than against the Danes, the prospect of the Arsenal man and Rooney feeding the poacher Bent is mouth-watering.

Capello will, of course, be pleased with the win, but by nature is never satisfied. His experiment on Wednesday paid off, but with further tweaks and better use of the talent available England could once again look truly threatening.

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