13 November, 2005

England - The thoughts of Chairman Mao Donutball's biased eye

So what of the England side? What did the 3-2 win over Argentina prove? What questions remain?

In goal, Tottenham’s Paul Robinson grows in stature with every international match. He is proving to be a worthy custodian. He conceded two goals, both defensive errors – by the out of form Bridge and the out of his league Konchesky. Questions remain about Robinson’s backup. Kirkland, when he isn’t injured, should be the number 2. You could pick anyone of a number of ‘keepers as number 3; none of those choices would be satisfactory.

Central defence remains a strength. John Terry is a rock. Rio Ferdinand is not my favourite player. Sol “Judas” Campbell should play despite advancing years and injuries. Ledley King is a capable stopgap.

On the flanks, England are suffering. This is a weak point in the side. Charlton’s Luke Young is reckless and lacks positional sense. He’ll get better, but we need Gary Neville back from injury. His partner on the left, Ashley Cole, is also injured. Wayne Bridge, just back from injury, had a torrid time on Saturday though will be a solid no.2 choice. Konchesky looked out of his depth.

Midfield. Ah, midfield. So much talent, yet so little certainty. The mix is not right. Lampard is a definite. Steven Gerrard is your typical good engine. He provided a brilliant whipped cross for Owen’s first. More often than not, Gerrard looks for the impossible through ball. He doesn’t impress as the holding midfielder England will need in Germany. Ledley King might be the answer. Against Poland he impressed; against Argentina he was overrun. Argentina are about 20 places above Poland so no disgrace. King, though, is a question.

Joe Cole came on as a sub and looked every inch a match-winner. He’s matured at Chelsea. He’s confident, takes on defenders and set up Owen’s winner. He can’t defend. That’s England’s question in midfield – the balance of a holding man. Play diamond or four across, or five with wing-backs. A holding midfielder will be essential in Germany.

That leaves David Beckham. So long as Eriksson is coach, Beckham will captain the side and will play. He’ll probably play on the right side, which suits him and England. When he drifts to the centre, he upsets the fragile balance and shape of the side. Shaun Wright-Phillips, for my money, is a better choice. He has pace. Pace upsets the best defenders as much as the mediocre. Just look at Rooney.

Just look at Rooney. He is the fulcrum for England. When Rooney gets the ball things happen. It’s become an expectation that he’ll score every time he runs at defenders. Without him England are good. With him England could be great. He has to play just behind the striker though I have doubts about Michael Owen’s comfort level with that system.

I doubted Owen yesterday – before he scored two superb goals. Okay, I have to admit he showed again that he can get into scoring positions. He’s brave and quick. In recent years, there have been doubts. His time at Real Madrid probably hurt more than it helped. Regular outings at Newcastle have helped.

Peter Crouch? If that’s the answer, the question is wrong. Instead, think Darren Bent – scoring hatfuls for Charlton.

All in all, it’s hard to think that England looked so awful against Northern Ireland. Talent is there. As with every England team, motivation is there. The skill level is better. There is genius in Wayne Rooney. What it lacks is a great captain.

And the coach…Eriksson can only ever win over hearts if England progress to, say, the semi-finals in Germany. Give him credit. England have qualified for the World Cup and Euro finals under him. Now, it requires stepping to the next level. England need ruthlessness, preparation and a bit of luck.


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