As they always do in September England cruised to a comfortable 3-0 win in Sofia that has all but secured qualification for Euro 2012. Amidst the unsavoury chants and dodgy pitch what did we learn?
Scott Parker Is Now A Certain Starter
The Tinkerman, Claudio Ranieri, once memorably opined of his expensively-assembled Chelsea side that ‘I have a fantastic watch and Claude is my battery. A watch runs on its battery.’ Foolhardy it may be to compare Parker with Makelele but that is effectively his role with the Three Lions; the designated steady Eddie to shield the centre-backs and also offer a ball-playing prowess as opposed to Charles Hughes hoofers of yesteryear David Batty and Phil Neville. Parker is after all, despite his reputable grit, a skilful footballer, and having the best of both worlds is music to the ears of Fabio Capello, who has been reliant on the tameness of Gareth Barry or been found pining for light at the end of Owen Hargreaves’ injury-ravaged tunnel. The obvious caveat is that Parker is no Alonso or Busquets, but he’s an improvement on the South African mauling England endured in Bloemfontein last year, and when Jack Wilshere returns he can operate on a longer leash knowing he has the vigilant security and experience of Parker behind him.
Rio Ferdinand’s Days Are Numbered
Come in number five, your time is up. If it’s foolhardy to compare a decorated player privileged to have a role named after him with an underachiever, then it isn’t to write off Rio Ferdinand’s international career. Again, taking the opposition into account, this was a breeze for John Terry and Gary Cahill, but it’s beginning to look ominous for Ferdinand when a Bolton player is starting ahead of you having missed out on a Premier transfer upgrade, even though Parker was informed by Capello to move to maintain his international career. Ferdinand’s injury record the past three years (17 separate cases) and Sir Alex Ferguson’s signings of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones is ample activity to hint that the ex-captain is teetering on Norma Desmond territory. Ferguson has been accused of preventing his players fulfilling their potential for England, but the inclusion of Ferdinand on the bench for the Arsenal game was an explicit signal to Capello that everything’s all right. Wrong. Terry, Cahill, Smalling, Jones and Lescott may all be inferior defenders than Ferdinand but Capello stripping him of the captaincy and now ignoring his (surprisingly) swift recovery illustrates that the times they are a-changin’. @rioferdy5’s off-field activities (he was hosting a Q&A yesterday) have caught up with him and finally, he’s not getting away with it.
Irrespective of who Capello chooses, Johnson should never earn a recall to the national squad.
Smalling For England… but not at right-back
It was an assured England debut for Chris Smalling and another fillip for a player who less than two years ago had still not made his Fulham debut. However he is and should always be considered a centre-back who is occasionally versatile and selfless enough to utilise his athleticism as a full-back. In the wake of Gary Neville’s departure from the international scene, the right-back role has been a problem position with neither Micah Richards’ frivolous professionalism nor asset-in-attack-yet-ass-in-defence Glen Johnson convincing. Yet now Capello has two promising alternatives to choose from in Kyle Walker and Martin Kelly as well as a refined and hungrier Richards. Walker’s aptitude in the opponent’s half identifies his Brazilian quality but it is Kelly who has an encouraging balance between attack and defence, whereas Richards’ hulking physique resembles an impenetrable Sol Campbell at his peak. Irrespective of who Capello chooses, Johnson should never earn a recall to the national squad.
Broadsword Calling Danny Boy…
But which one? England may have eased to victory against a feeble Bulgarian side, but unsurprisingly appeared disjointed in attack, with the team’s shape bereft of a target man to maintain presence up front. Rooney is not necessarily wasted in this role (34 goals in the 2009/10 season) but his playmaking qualities are stripped from his game. The Two Dannys – Welbeck and Sturridge – were a couple of the budding England internationals to emerge with credit from the Under 21s’ dismal Danish debacle in the summer, and the former would surely have started against Bulgaria had he not suffered a hamstring injury for Manchester United on Sunday. Sturridge, more of a number 10, faces the monotonous quandary at Stamford Bridge of being amidst the cluttered striking roster, however the pair possess the pace to keep up with England’s newfound quick tempo, unlike the ponderous Andy Carroll or link-up strugglers Darren Bent and Jermain Defoe. With Rooney as the foil and two of Ashley Young, Adam Johnson and Stewart Downing on the wings also, there’s potential for a lither attack.
Walcott Was Wasted
Poor Theo Walcott. Not words I ever supposed I’d type, although he’s an athlete mistaken for a footballer, he can occasionally resemble the profession he purports to represent when operating as a striker. So it was a familiar case of square-pegs-in-round-holes when Young, a winger, was deployed off the front man, Rooney, a playmaker who revels off the front man, was the striker, and Walcott, who prefers to play as a striker, was on the wing. The press would have bathed for a week in the field, let alone a day, if this system switch (or glitch) didn’t end in victory, alas the Bulgarians were as hopeless as a new Madonna film. Yet despite a decent display Walcott was one of England’s few losers on the night as he was negated the chance to dig out his long-touted Michael Owen impression and even when a chance did present itself he fluffed his lines like Diana Ross at the 94 World Cup. And Chain Reaction.
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