For the first time in nearly a decade, an England team which lined-up for a competitive match included neither Steven Gerrard nor Frank Lampard, and albeit against poor opposition, the result warranted the latter’s exclusion.
There is a degree of agreement regarding the notion that the 33-year-old fails to replicate his club form on the international stage, so there should also be a logical train of thought to suggest Lampard’s exclusion was long overdue. Many commentators also believe his failure to excel in the same side as Steven Gerrard should have also forced Capello’s hand, but whilst the Liverpool captain has been sidelined, Lampard has failed to impress with underwhelming international performances.
Following the World Cup in South Africa at which England failed so miserably, it was mainly Capello’s tactical framework which came under scrutiny. A rigid 4-4-2 – which included Lampard – looked flat and old fashioned, a failed system only exacerbated by the fluid, modern and vibrant Germans. It became the perennial argument – how can the England team accommodate both the Chelsea and Liverpool lynchpins? In the first instance it appeared to be a case of using one or the other, but following this latest chapter of Capello’s tenure, there now seems a valid argument that the team can effectively operate with neither.
Capello followed the example set by many English and European club sides who now regularly adopt the 4-2-3-1 formation, a set up which does not encompass the archetypal central midfielder. Instead, it employs two spoilers – or defensive midfielders – in the mould of Gareth Barry and Scott Parker. Further forward it allows more creative licence, licence which is built from pace and interchangeability. It was similar to the German approach which comprehensively distinguished England’s hopes in Bloemfontein.
The problem then from the Lampard camp is that this system operates best with players who can play in both wide and central positions, and it is in this respect where Lampard fails to comply. With Ashley Young forming a successful marriage with Wayne Rooney at Old Trafford, his inclusion is a must, whilst Stewart Downing’s crossing ability and Theo Walcott’s pace provide genuine balance in the attacking third.
Capello’s decision to leave Lampard out of a competitive fixture for the first time since 2007 was a bold call, but one which paid dividends. It would be wrong to label this a new dawn for an England team which has developed such enigmatic status, and it was also against weak opposition and there will be sterner tests to come. However, what it does signify is that England finally have a manager who will, in his words: “…choose
Supporters should not get carried away following the efficient display in Sofia, nor should Lampard be used as a scapegoat for previous England failings. However, if Capello continues this much-needed modernisation of the national team, the Chelsea midfielder’s international career may be on the wane.