Thursday, September 13, 2007

England continue to confuse me, part deux

England 3-0 Russia

Oh, Michael Owen, how we how we have missed you and your little wheely legs and your ability to actually put the ball in the net. That's three goals for him in the space of two games and -- more impressively -- two of those have even come from outside the box. Shocking, really. It makes me wonder what exactly they did to him while he was off being rehabbed for months on end. (I'm picturing the doctors hovering over his hospital bed a la The Million-Dollar Man: "We can rebuild him. Make him better, stronger..." "Taller?" Mickey pipes up hopefully. "Um, no." "Oh. Bollocks.")

Anyway, that's two solid wins in a row for England, and two good performances as a team. I'm not quite sure what to make of this, although I'm leaning towards the pessimistic expectation that they'll revert to being crap soon enough. Which is not being helped by all the speculation that has of course cropped up about whether McClaren will stck with this lineup when his choices aren't constrained by injuries.

  • Micah Richards vs. Gary Neville
  • Rio Ferdinand vs. some unnamed centre half who is able to avoid dozing off for 90 minutes straight
  • Shaun Wright-Phillips vs. David Beckham and his dodgy ankle vs. David Bentley/Aaron Lennon/Jermaine Pennant/whoever
  • Emile Heskey vs. Peter Crouch
  • Michael Owen vs. Wayne Rooney vs. one of England's myriad other nippy wee strikers
  • Gareth Barry vs. Frank Lampard vs. Owen Hargreaves

It's the latter two that worry me the most; in the other cases, I think either option is not too disastrous. But the question of who plays up front and in centre midfield is crucial to whether or not the team works. As wonderful as it is to see Owen back and scoring goals, what happens if (when) he gets injured again? I suppose in that case Wayne Rooney is the backup plan, but on the other hand, how do you justify keeping Rooney on the bench for the moment? I can justify it quite easily by saying that Rooney hasn't been scoring lately, even when he wasn;t injured, and he doesn't work particularly well with Owen, but then I am not Steve McClaren and don't have to worry about people baying for my head because I've left Manchester United's star player out of the team.

As for the midfield issue, I think it should be Steven Gerrard + either Barry or Hargreaves, depending on the opposition. I'd suggest considering Lampard as part of a 4-5-1 against certain teams, but I think it's been thoroughly proven that England don't have anyone who can play effectively as a lone striker, so that's out. And that leaves Lampard as the backup for Gerrard, rather than automatically being in the team when he's fit, and too bad if John Terry gets all pissy because his BFF can't play. The fact that Gerrard and Barry have meshed so well after a grand total of two games together -- something that Gerrard and Lampard couldn't manage in god only knows how many attempts -- says enough for me.

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