Why couldn’t England play like this at the World Cup?
England’s resurgence is down to a simple change in formation and fringe players discarded by Capello
Amid the rejoicing over England's sudden return to form in the Euro 2012 qualifiers there remains a niggling question - why didn't they play like this in South Africa?
Fabio Capello's men have rediscovered their mojo in their last two outings against Bulgaria and Switzerland, scoring seven goals in the process. But at first glance little has changed. They are still ostensibly playing 4-4-2 and using the same personnel that were available to Capello before the World Cup.
It could be a damning indictment of Capello that the change in England's fortunes appears to be down to a slight tweak in the set-up of the team - one that could easily have been tested out on the training ground in South Africa, if not earlier.
In the last two games Wayne Rooney has dropped into the 'hole' between midfield and has attacked and orchestrated things admirably, and linked up well with Steven Gerrard. The result against Bulgaria was a hat-trick for Jermain Defoe.
Had it really never occurred to Capello that Rooney could be used as a withdrawn striker with the pacy Defoe running the line in front of him?
More worryingly still is why did Adam Johnson, Theo Walcott and Darren Bent not make the cut for the World Cup squad? Johnson and Walcott have made a big impact on the energy levels of the team, Johnson scoring twice, while Bent was on target against Switzerland.
Capello can be forgiven for overlooking Joleon Lescott and Phil Jagielka, the centre backs who looked impressive in Basle on Tuesday. Last summer Lescott was unfit and Jagielka on the way back from a serious injury. But on the evidence of the last two games, Capello's big mistakes this summer were made when he whittled down his squad in early June.
England's latest performances also leave question marks over the future of the squad's most notable absentees - Chelsea pair, John Terry and Frank Lampard. Both were there for the debacle in South Africa, but have barely been missed in the last two games.
Could it be that England have prospered because of, rather than despite, their absence? If Capello retains Steven Gerrard as captain there is little reason to recall the Chelsea duo. (Indeed, Manchester City, who had six players on England duty against Switzerland, now seems to be the main store of English talent.)
The Gerrard/Lampard condundrum is a tedious one. But, just as one cannot play two goalkeepers in the same team, it surely has to be accepted that there is no longer room for two 30-year-old central midfielders in the team. Particularly with Gareth Barry (who turns 30 himself next year) doing a better job than either of them as midfield anchor.
John Terry may find a way back into the team, but again age is against him and he was exposed for pace in South Africa. Jagielka and Lescott are only a couple of years younger than him, and look assured.
Given all the problems that Capello has faced at centre back, he could well be tempted to stick with the current pairing. After all, his other options are limited. Rio Ferdinand, like Terry, is over 30 and injured, while Ledley King and Matthew Upson cannot be relied upon, Jamie Carragher and Wes Brown have quit international football and Matthew Dawson is injured.
But whatever the reasons for England's resurgence, the acid test of the new England will come when they have to play high-pressure tournament football - after all they qualified for the World Cup with ease and then choked. ·
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