After weeks of speculation, and in typically shambolic FA style, the final England world cup squad of 23 was announced today. The headline news is that Theo Walcott has been omitted after failing to impress in recent friendlies against Mexico and Japan, while Darren Bent and Adam Johnson can count themselves unlucky to make the cut. Scott Parker, Michael Dawson, Leighton Baines and Tom Huddlestone were more predictable absentees after Gareth Barry passed a fitness test.
After a mainly average season at Arsenal, if Walcott had made the squad it would have been largely due to his stunning hat trick in Croatia in 2008. However, with the likes of Emile Heskey included, who has had a mediocre season for Villa, Darren Bent can count himself extremely unfortunate to have missed out after scoring an impressive 24 goals for Sunderland this year. With Barry’s fitness uncertain for the group stages, Capello obviously thing the familiar (and all-too-often frustrating) duo of Lampard and Gerrard can take England to the knockout stages, explaining the absence of Huddlestone and Parker.
That’s what Capello thinks – and on five million plus a year, his opinion is certainly worth more than ours. But here at Football Filter we feel obliged to have our two bobs worth and throw our view into the mix, so here is our perspective on how England should turn out in South Africa (given the players available).
Football Filter’s England XI to start vs. America
A. Cole Ferdinand Terry Johnson
J. Cole Lampard Gerrard A. Lennon
If the orthodox 4-4-2 formation with Gerrard and Lampard in the centre is not good enough to advance beyond the group stages, the England players should be forced to make their own way back from South Africa. Having said that, FF would have included Scott Parker in the squad to stifle any attacking threats before they got started and gone with a more flexible 4-2-3-1 formation (see below) from the start. But this formation should still see England through a relatively kind group draw. The back five pretty much picks itself, while Cole and Lennon should provide enough threat from the wings to allow Gerrard to burst forward and get involved in the fun. Up front, FF selects Crouch over Heskey despite Rooney’s better goalscoring record with Heskey in the side. But you cannot look past Crouch’s amazing potency at international level. Heskey would not even have made FF’s 23-man cut after the season Bent has had. But things will get really interesting in the group stages.
Football Filter’s England XI to start in knockout stages
A. Cole Ferdinand Terry Johnson
Gerrard Rooney A. Lennon
As England face more talented opposition, they will most definitely need to focus more on a defensive bank in midfield to nullify the threat from the man in the hole. Lucky, then, that Gareth Barry should be fit by then, and able to sit with Lampard and hold in front of the back four. The formation also breaks midfield into two lines, thus separating Lampard from Gerrard and solving that familiar riddle for England. An attacking three of Gerrard, Rooney and Lennon (or Cole if he impresses), running off Crouch’s flicks is an appetising prospect. With defensive matters under control, Gerrard would be given full license to cut in and get involved from the left in a roving role, while Lennon or Cole would ideally hug the right flank and attack an isolated full back. Gerrard’s cutting in would give the additional advantage of allowing Ashley Cole to overlap down the left, which is when he is most dangerous.
Injuries aside (Warnock at left back, no thanks), what could go wrong? Quite a lot probably, which is why Mr. Capello is in charge and not us. However, given that ‘trustfabio’ was trending on Twitter today, two poor friendly displays have not quelled belief in the Italian’s England project. But let’s be realistic, we are not going to win it. Yes, this could be our year. But on that logic it could be New Zealand’s or North Korea’s too (or more probably Brazil’s or Spain’s). Here at FF we are looking forward to enjoying a festival of football, nothing more. Mind you, we are due a bit of luck in these competitions…