Continuing a theme that began after the disappointment of England’s World Cup exit at the hands of Germany, Coach Fabio Capello has again put a lot of faith in the hands of some young, inexperienced players. The introduction of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Tom Cleverly, and the continued presence of Ashley Young, Gary Cahill and Joe Hart, the former trio without a senior cap between them and the latter trio owners of just 29 caps combined, suggests that this England is indeed a fresh faced squad.
At least four of the above-named half-dozen can reasonably expect to play in Sofia. Hart is the side’s unquestioned No 1 goalkeeper, while Young became a proven international commodity even before his switch to and subsequent excellent form for Manchester United. Smalling is widely expected to feature in his new right-back position after impressing in the role during United’s early season triumphs, while the job of partnering captain John Terry at the heart of defence is reportedly between either Cahill, the Bolton Wanderers defender, or Jones, another who has starred in the embryonic season.
Scott Parker, 11 years the senior of 19-year-old Jones, the youngest player in the squad, still has only six international appearances to his name, 80 fewer than Frank Lampard and 40 fewer than Gareth Barry, but the new Tottenham Hotspur signing is another short on international experience and yet at the forefront of Capello’s mind. After appearing only in fits and starts during his younger days – to the point of receiving his first three caps while playing for three different clubs – has, since returning to Capello’s squad against Denmark in February, firmly entrenched himself in England’s strongest XI.
Displaying an intuitive link with Jack Wilshere in his first start for five years against Wales in March, Parker ably transferred his excellent club form of last season into the international arena. With Wilshere missing – although still the emblem of England’s vaunted new approach – Parker, if picked, will have to rapidly form a new bond with his midfield colleague, perhaps the uncapped Cleverly.
Even in attack there is an assortment of new or relatively new faces. The twice-capped Andy Carroll is joined not only by Wayne Rooney, who will pass 70 caps against Bulgaria, and Jermain Defoe, capped nearly 50 times and the oldest striker in the bunch, but also Darren Bent, now 27 but still with just 10 England appearances. It is only recently that Bent, with three goals in his last four international games, has looked comfortable in England colours, and his growing ease seen a three-way understanding with Young and Rooney blossom, one only bolstered by the improved understanding between new club mates Young and Rooney. Bent is, however, carrying a groin problem into the game having missed training through the week, with Defoe and Carroll vying to step in.
Remove old favourites Terry, Ashley Cole, Lampard, Barry, Rooney and Defoe from this England squad and you are left with 155 caps between 19 players, an average of roughly eight between them. Low on experience perhaps, but equally high on potential.