England vs Macedonia – Can McClaren make home advantage count?

Steve McClaren has one goal on Saturday – to help England avoid looking like fools in the lead-up to their first real excursion of their Euro 2008 qualifications, away against Croatia on the 11th.

On Saturday, England play Macedonia at home, with no Owen Hargreaves and a returning (albeit woefully out of form) Wayne Rooney.

And McClaren, whether he’s playing the media card again or is truly in the mood to innovate, is thinking of trying to make England play 3-5-2.

Considering Eriksson’s disasterous experiments with a diamond 4-4-2 and an anaemic 4-5-1, a new formation doesn’t seem like the solution to England’s problems. A 3-5-2 has some tactical limitations as well, with Neville’s lack of pace at the back combined with the pressure that will be put on England’s wingbacks (Cole and SWP, probably) working against them. Considering that Macedonia will be looking to pack the midfield and break up England’s play, focusing our strengths through the center (with Lampard and Gerrard playing there) will make for a tight, over-crowded game.

And yet Macedonia is the right team to try this formation (or any new experiment) against – They will be weaker away from home and England already hold the psychological advantage by having beaten then last month. Macedonia are not going to rip holes into England’s new-look side and will cause few problems.

The one player losing out in such a scenario will be Stewart Downing, who has had a good opportunity in Joe Cole’s absence, and has shown himself to be a capable winger. Comparisons with Ryan Giggs are premature and optimistic at best, facetitious at worst. Contrary to popular opinion though, Downing does deliver a deadly cross and is capable of beating his man on the wing.

And of England? Formation change or not, all eyes will be on Wayne Rooney and whoever McClaren chooses as replacement for Hargreaves. Carrick is in pole position for that spot, but with Eriksson’s erratic decisions still fresh in my memory, I wouldn’t put it beyond Stevo to throw in Scott Parker or Ledley King, or even Rio Ferdinand!

Possible England starting lineups

Formation: 4-4-2
Lineup: Robinson, Neville, Terry, Ferdinand, A. Cole, Gerrard, Lampard, Carrick, Downing, Crouch, Rooney

Formation: 3-5-2
Lineup: Robinson, Neville, Terry, Ferdinand, Wright-Phillips, Gerrard, Lampard, Carrick, A. Cole, Crouch, Rooney

Formation: 4-3-3
Lineup: Robinson, Neville, Terry, Ferdinand, A. Cole, Gerrard, Carrick, Lampard, Wright-Phillips, Crouch, Rooney

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