The Curious Case of England

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It was a coming together of two world powers, so to speak. An England side that seems to have lost their way took on a France side that seems to be finding theirs. Both were still in the process of trying to blot out the same caustic memory of a depressing World Cup.

Since June’s heartbreak, both countries have undergone changes in their own right. France brought a new manager on board, suspended the squad’s trouble-makers and have set their eyes unflinchingly on a new era. England have kept their manager, but have since done some reshuffling in terms of the playing staff, whether forcibly or out of sheer want.

The friendly between England and France, although a spectacle in its own right, gave a bit of a progress report. Given France’s display, Laurent Blanc can be pleased with his side and their progress. Fresh talent is coming to the fore, previously shun stars are shining once again and the country as a unit is well on its way to reclaiming the reputation it once had. For Fabio Capello and England, however, there is still much work to do. But, where does one start?

Fitness and injuries seem to be the scapegoats these days, but are they plausible excuses? Looking at France once again, their best players were either injured or suspended. Their team, with a few exceptions, consisted of players who failed to make the World Cup squad. Yet, Laurent Blanc examined his options and put out a team that has been impressing of late. Young players like Yann M’Vila are getting their chance and taking it well. Laurent Blanc has shown faith and confidence in his crop of players and they in turn are rewarding his faith in them.

On the other hand, Fabio Capello seems like a manager who is still somewhat unsure of the options he has at his disposal and how to get the best out of them. He put out an “experimental side” to play against France, yet there were several notable absentees who were deserving of at least a call-up. West Ham’s Scott Parker has been in tremendous form for his club, but he was ignored and not for the first time. Everton’s Leighton Baines has been nothing short of brilliant for his club and he seemed to be a shoo in, especially given the fact that Ashley Cole pulled out of the squad. However, he too was ignored in favor of Aston Villa’s Stephen Warnock and Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs. Wolves winger, Matthew Jarvis, has also been performing well for his club and he was expected to be rewarded with a call-up. Again however, the player was ignored. Players like Ashley Young and Micah Richards (both made the squad this time) have also hardly been given the time of day by Capello.

Not only is there a problem with the non-selection of players, but there are some concerns with who he selects and how selected players are used. We know Phil Jagielka to be a Center Back for Everton, but he was deployed at Right Back versus France and struggled in the first half. James Milner is a versatile player, but he rose to prominence when he was moved in from the wing and into a central midfield position at Aston Villa. Yet, he was deployed on the left side of midfield, where Ashley Young has been so impressive for Aston Villa. Theo Walcott has a serious problem with crossing, yet he was deployed on the right wing and offered nothing in the first half. Gareth Barry is a favorite of Capello’s, but up to now, I can’t see why. He lacks pace and often struggles to keep up with the game. The same can be said of him versus France.

All of that made Steven Gerrard have to carry the weight of the team on his shoulders. England’s best chances came because of him. Because Gerrard was the lone, meaningful influence in midfield, Andy Carroll, although he played well, had little to work with on his own up front. These are problems that had a telling impact on both the team’s performance and the final result of the game.

That said, how can Capello fix things? He can simply call up players who deserve to be called up and use them in a way that he can get the best out of them. He has to understand each player’s attributes and use them to better the team. There’s no harm in experimenting, but there has to be some sense to it. He also has to approach games in a positive way. That doesn’t necessarily mean dropping a defensive midfielder. Whether 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1 or otherwise, his players must show attacking endeavor and defensive stability- both of which were lacking against France. Finally, no one player must be relied upon. England can still be a decent squad even without Lampard, Terry and Rooney. It’s up to Capello to prove that.

France are showing that it is not impossible to comeback from a bad experience. With some deeper thought by Fabio Capello concerning player selection, positioning and tactics, England can redeem themselves too.

Here’s what England’s lineup should look like, fitness permitting- (4-2-2-2)- Hart- Johnson, Ferdinand, Terry, Cole- Parker, Huddlestone- Gerrard, Wilshere- Rooney, Carroll.

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