It was not a yellow card, he should not be suspended for England’s next game against Ukraine, but the reaction to Danny Welbeck’s booking has been over the top to say the least. I like Welbeck as a player, and he will be missed like any player in the England squad. However, in that left-sided forward position, we have James Milner, Raheem Sterling, Ashley Young and potentially Andros Townsend if we were desperate. This is not the crisis that the media would have us believe.
One of the reasons I believe this is because of the early season form that Rickie Lambert is showing. In an ideal world, we would not want to be playing a two cap player in a crucial qualifying match. However, with two goals from those two caps, I feel optimistic that Lambert will do a job for England, and hopefully help the team to the win. Although they are different in many ways, Lambert and usual England number ten, Wayne Rooney share a common asset: strength on the ball. Supporters crave pace in their team, but strength is something that should never be underestimated as a player who can hold onto the ball can compensate for a group of players who aren’t as zippy as we would like. However, with a speedster like Theo Walcott alongside him in attack, Lambert can be a crucial player in any England counter-attacks on Tuesday night.
Moving away from the game against Ukraine, and the following two against Montenegro and Poland, what is the best team England can field at the moment? After Greg Dyke’s recent comments, it got me wondering about whether England do have a team capable of winning, or at least progressing in a tournament. Based on the team last night, I’d argue that the weakest area of the side is defence, with Phil Jagielka being the weakest link. Whilst a dependable player for Everton, I do not think he can handle the best that the world can offer. I argue this by saying that Manchester City were in need of a centre-back this summer, yet instead of looking towards Jagielka, a player who has previously formed a great partnership with Joleon Lescott, they went for unproven Premier League player Martin Demichelis. Whilst he has experience in Europe with Bayern Munich and Malaga, the fact that City targeted him over an English player such as Jagielka suggests that the club do not believe he can cut it with the best in the world, which is where they are aiming to be. For this reason, in my England XI, I have not included Jagielka. I would include him in my 23 man squad for a tournament, but he would not be a starter. I include Phil Jones based on his physical presence on the field, reminding me at times of Robert Huth in that he can become an imposing defender, leaving a mark or two on a forward by the end of the ninety minutes. Whether he gets to this standard by the end of the 2013/14 season is another question, but he has the potential to be great. Also in my XI, I have also placed Leighton Baines as the left-back over Ashley Cole, largely due to this younger age plus his attacking qualities from open and set play are far greater than the Chelsea star. If we were 119 minutes into a game, veering on penalties, and we had a set-piece, there is no one I would trust more to take it than Baines, which is impressive for a left-back! Cole is certainly not a wasted player, but I would prefer to choose youth and attacking options from defence, rather than reliability and security from Cole in this team.
One of the inclusions I have imposed on this XI is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a player who I believe can add great versatility to England’s starting XI, when fit again. Whilst known as a winger, he has also played well as a central attacking midfielder, and also as part of a midfield three for Arsenal in the Champions League. This means that in any given game, Chamberlain can be moved to allow versatility amongst the other three forward players. If Chamberlain wants to play central, Danny Welbeck can drift out wide, or Wayne Rooney, to pull players out of position and allow Chamberlain space. Theo Walcott has stated that he wants to play as a striker more often than a winger, so in games if he wants to play closer to the forward, Chamberlain or Welbeck can cover his position on the right and maintain the team’s width, without any loss of quality. These four forward thinking players can inter-change with ease, creating unpredictability which could challenge world class defences on their day. With two quality midfielders of Gerrard and Wilshire’s quality, the supply would be there for the forwards, and defensively, the team would not suffer with having all of these players in the same team. Whilst Roy Hodgson will most likely have all of these eleven players available to select at some point in the next few months, I will be surprised if this team gets selected at any point as he may veer away from having so many attack-minded players in his XI for the World Cup and beyond.
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