Tuesday, October 11, 2005

World Cup qualifying: England v. Poland (pre-game)

So Sven has revealed who's probably going to start for England in the game tomorrow, and I have to say: Ledley King? Really? Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't he a defender? Rather than an actual midfielder, which they need. I'm sure he's a decent player -- he seemed to do a good job when he came on against Austria on Saturday, but it still doesn't solve the ongoing problem of England's midfield.

A little while ago, I saw an article suggesting that Paul Scholes retirement from international football was going to make the team selection much less complicated...and, um. Not so much. Joe Cole has stepped up -- I thought he was one of the better players on Saturday -- but all the wishing in the world isn't going to make him left-footed. And it still doesn't solve the more crucial problem: the lack of a defensive midfielder.

Sven seemed to have partially recognized that problem when he experimented with a 4-5-1 formation against Northern Ireland. With David Beckham as the holding midfielder. Ahahahaha. That's a position that requires someone who can actually, you know, make tackles, not just flail around and pick up yellow cards. So Beckham is not exactly the best man for the job. But if not him, then who?

Fergie has been trying to turn Alan Smith into the next Roy Keane over at Manchester United. It'd be great for England if that works out, but it's still to early for him to really have adapted to the position. Phil Neville has been playing as a holding midfielder at Everton, but he hasn't exactly set the world on fire either, despite finally getting the opportunity to come out of his brother's shadow -- he also seems to have been spending way too much time getting booked recently.

Gerrard and Lampard both play essentially the same position for their clubs: attacking centre mid, with someone else backing up the play behind them (Makalele at Chelsea, Hamann or Xabi Alonso at Liverpool). So they're not used to thinking about having to come back and defend all the time. I think either of them could do the job if they had to, but in that case, they have to know that's their job and stick to it. And while they could do it, and do it reasonably well, I also think they both play better in a more attacking role. (Attacking, in this case, translates into Gerrard spazzing all over the field and Lampard lurking outside the 18-yard box waiting for a chance to unleash a piledriver.)

Which leaves us back where they are now: both trying to take turns pressing up and dropping back. That can work, certainly -- there's no rule that says you have to have a holding midfielder -- but it only comes with practice, and time building up a rapport between the two players. That doesn't seem to have happened yet, maybe because they spend most of their time battling against each other in the Premiership.

It might be a slight relief for Sven that Stevie G is hurt right now, because it gives him a chance to try something different -- presumably a diamond formation in midfield -- without having to come up with an excuse for dropping one of the two best midfielders in the country. But in the long run, it does nothing to relieve worries about how this team will stand up when they come up against a game that really matters.

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