As the English Premier League season draws to a close there is still all to play for! The title race is still a close run race between Manchester United and Chelsea, the battle for fourth place sees four teams battling it out for a place in next season’s Champions League and at the wrong end of the table, Burnley, Hull and West Ham are fighting it out to avoid joining Portsmouth in the Championship next season, with two of the three set to be relegated.
However, it is not just the teams who have it all to play for with just a few games remaining. With the World Cup just a matter of weeks away, many players in the Premier League will be competing for places in the squads of their respective countries as they head to South Africa, none more so than those players on the fringes of the England Squad.
Fabio Capello is set to name the 23 man England World Cup squad on 1st June, but will first name a provisional squad of 28 which will play two friendly matches against Mexico and Japan before delivering the bad news to five players that they won’t be boarding the plane to South Africa.
Even at this stage, there still remains uncertainty surrounding several positions in the England starting XI, who will start in goals? Who will be Capello’s chosen centre back pairing? Who will play on the wing? and which strikers will be named in the squad? All these questions remain unanswered and as such, many English players in the Premier League will be using the remaining matches of the season to try and impress the boss.
It is more than likely that Capello will name three goalkeepers in the squad but fans are still unsure of who will start in goal for the England v USA game in Rustenburg for the first game of the World Cup. Robert Green, David James and Joe Hart have been the favoured trio in recent squads but Blackburn Rovers keeper, Paul Robinson, must enter the reckoning given his recent club form and that he has big tournament experience having played for England in Euro 2004 and the last World Cup in 2006.
Robert Green has started recent friendlies and was the number one choice for the final qualifying matches suggesting that he is the favored keeper to start in South Africa, however, he still remains relatively inexperienced at International level with just nine caps and many fans would prefer to see David James given the gloves, given the experience for his 49 caps.
Joe Hart has probably been in the best form of the three domestically this season but it would be a big risk to add to his single cap in matches as important as those England will play at the World Cup but Capello has shown he is capable of making brave decisions and all three will believe they have a chance of starting in South Africa in what will be one of the most crucial positions if England are to progress to the latter stages of the competition.
Whilst not as undecided as the goalkeeper’s jersey, injuries have raised doubts about who’ll make up the England defence. Ever presents, Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Cole have both been hit by injury this season and the fitness of the pair remains a concern. As such, possible replacements and squad inclusions must be considered.
Stephen Warnock of Aston Villa, Leighton Baines of Everton and Ryan Shawcross of Stoke all enter the reckoning after being included in the most recent squad and Spurs’ Michael Dawson has also laid claim with impressive performances for his club of late but with just two caps between the four, International experience is lacking and none can expect to play a leading role and Capello will be hoping his regular back four can remain fit, although he may hand Gary Neville a chance to play in his last World Cup at the age of 35 to cover for right back Glen Johnson.
The midfield is the one area of the team that is relatively settled and Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry, Stewart Downing, Theo Walcott and Joe Cole can all expect to be named in the squad. Injury to David Beckham means that extra cover at right wing will be required and Aaron Lennon and Shaun Wright-Phillips are likely to fill in but it is which and how many strikers that is likely to cause most debate in the build up to the squad being announced.
Wayne Rooney is certain to start upfront for England at the World Cup but the question remains who’ll partner him. It is possible that he will start alone up front but the chances are Emile Heskey will be his partner. Heskey comes in for much criticism as an England striker and based on his record of only seven goals in 57 games for his country, it is understandable but when you look at the number of goals Wayne Rooney scores with Heskey in the team, it is understandable why Capello favours him to partner Rooney up front.
Between 2004 and 2007, Rooney scored just five goals in 27 games for England under the management of Sven Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren, neither of whom played Heskey at the time. Following the appointment of Fabio Capello, Rooney and Heskey were partnered upfront for the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign, in which Rooney scored a record nine goals in twelve games, becoming top scorer in European qualification.
Rooney has scored 11 in his last 12 England matches involving Heskey and has said that the Aston Villa striker is his preferred partner so it has to be expected that will be the pairing Capello goes for.
Other strikers who are sure to be named in the squad are Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch but it is thought that Capello could name a fifth or even sixth striker in the squad and that is thought to be a battle between Carlton Cole, Darren Bent and Bobby Zamora, all of whom have laid claim to a place in the squad with the way they have scored in the Premier League this season.
Whoever makes up the final 23 that will head to South Africa, one thing is for certain, the England squad will boast the talent capable of doing well at the World Cup. Under manager Fabio Capello England look a different team than those under previous managers, more organised, more discipline and more belief…
They may even be capable of winning a penalty shootout! Whilst it would be a big ask for England to win the tournament, the possibility remains a realistic one, something reflected in the England Odds of winning the World Cup by bookmakers who make Capello’s men third favourites to win behind Spain and Brazil.