Why Liverpool's Gerrard & Chelsea's Lampard Are Now England's Perfect Pairing

Maligned for years as too similar and incapable of playing together, their new roles at club level show that the ageing pair can form the base for Wilshere and co to tear into opposition...
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Why Liverpool's Gerrard & Chelsea's Lampard Are Now England's Perfect Pairing...

1) Will the lack of legs on Lampard and Gerrard make them a better pairing now they can both hold?

An experienced journalist mentioned to me yesterday that with the emergence of Jack Wilshere necessitating that these two wise old needs are not required to bomb on so much and are both playing in more withdrawn roles with their clubs, they may even make a decent midfield pairing now. Of course with the amount of miles in their legs over their careers it may not even be an option anymore – but it was interesting to see how they interacted with youngsters around now to do their running.

The results? 12 minutes in Gerrard runs from deep to drill a low shot into the far corner. His first International goal for three years. Earlier in the move Lampard had played the ball forward, almost without his head up. It wasn’t slackness; it was the fact that he expected an England player to be on the end of it – even if it was surprising that it was Gerrard, who was playing a lot deeper.

Gerrard provided the defensive cover and discipline, even helping out at his own corner flag at times. His shielding work freed up Lampard and Wilshere to play further forward, and even Lampard dutifully carried out defensive work he is rarely renowned for.

There was a lovely cameo ahead of the fourth goal where Gerrard reached to win the ball, pushed it to Wilshere, who gave it straight away to the Chelsea midfielder. That passage moved England from just near the halfway line to the Moldovan's area, even if, ultimately nothing fruitful occurred. Yet it was a glimpse into how the three passed the ball well in setting up a fluid fast moving attack.

This midfield triumvirate offers the impeccable combination of wily experience and the vitality and audacity of youth, not to mention vision and strength from all three. It could be a midfield that defies Ukraine in Kiev, even without Danny Welbeck up front who is rapidly turning into a goalscoring asset for England

2) Welbeck will be missed in the Ukraine even if Rickie Lambert keeps scoring

Lambert and Welbeck might sound like a dismal trial episode of two maverick cops on ITV3 but who would have thought they worked so well together?

Welbeck's undeserved ban is unfortunate as it comes at a time when Rooney, Andy Carroll and potentially Daniel Sturridge will be missing for the crucial game in Kiev.

It was good to see Rickie Lambert further acclimatise to international football, though again I do have doubts about his long term future at that level due to his lack of pace. Wellbeck looked lively running into the channels, pulling the defenders out of place and generally giving them an uncomfortable night as his skill pace and movement outfoxed them continually.

Lambert provided a decent enough foil for Welbeck, though again, his movement was more rigid than you’d like at that level, and you do wonder how he would cope against far better teams. For now though he’ll do. It’s just a shame he’s been denied by an over officious referee the chance to build on his partnership with Welbeck through the United star’s booking.

It was also telling that Joe Hart, facing the 123rd ranked team in the world didn’t have a single grass stain on his top at the final whistle. Be prepared for a far busier night in Kiev Joe. And don’t forget we had a keeper sent off there last time we played them in qualifying over there.

ITV’s England coverage of course has the Verve’s Lucky Man as its theme tune courtesy of Jagger and Richards. Rickie Lambert is not so much a lucky man as a good bloke, a decent honest pro who trudged through the backwaters of English football serving his apprenticeship along the way, and fully deserves his chance, certainly when considering other forwards injury problems and suspensions. Good luck to him.

However, I do have to add I was concerned to read after the Scotland game that he doesn’t even like beetroot considering he worked in a beetroot processing factory in Scarisbroke as a youngster playing non-league football. By the way if you do happen to be passing the area please don’t try and find the processing plant as it has now closed down –thus highlighting the scandalous long-term decline of beetroot consumption in the UK.


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3)Greg Dyke is missing his target

“Dyke goals are our goals - but why wait until 2022?” So read a suspiciously well-made banner shown before the game.

With his media savvy reputation, and a made-for-the-digital-age speech about the FA’s long term targets I would say the ex-Brentford Chairman completely missed the point. Instead of banging on about winning the World Cup by 2022 he should be looking at raising the number of qualified coaches in this country. And anyway, what do targets mean really Greg? If we play well in the rest of the qualifying will that move the date forward by six months to 2021 and a half because of our sterling progress?

The fact is Germany were at year zero in 2000. They even lost to us at Charleroi. Under Kevin Keegan. But they went away and designed a blueprint to teach youngsters to improve their technique. There were no flashy PR stunts, no bite-sized buzz words, simply a concerted effort to make sure kids between the crucial ages of 8-12 – the golden years of learning as Dennis Bergkamp called it – could control and pass a football whilst being aware of the importance of space, vision, the ability to take a ball on the half turn and a myriad of other drills that weren’t being taught.

The result? A free flowing German team with a player such as Mesut Ozil pulling the strings. And ten years after they fell to Shearer’s goal in that dismal game they absolutely slaughtered us in South Africa.

It is a national scandal in the UK and England in particular that we have less qualified football coaches than Portugal, Holland, Germany, Italy, France and even Hungary. Think about it Greg the next time you give the world arrogant and empty promises that we are going to win the World Cup in 2022.

And on another not Dyke, with all those empty seats at Wembley you knew about before the game, you could have given the underprivileged kids of Brent a free ticket to the game instead of having them serve flat overpriced lager at the minimum wage in the catering outlets instead…

4) ITV’s execrable football coverage is bad for my blood pressure

In the build-up to the game the channel played such a gushing and overly sentimental piece on Wilshere that I had to double check I wasn’t watching a particularly sugary backstory of an X-factor contestant.

Cue audio: “The last time Wilshire played a qualifier Rio Ferdinand and John Terry were the centre halves and Capello was manager. It was against Switzerland in June 2011”. If Coldplay had been the musical backdrop interspersed with a young, nervous Jack sitting quietly in the rehearsal rooms waiting for Dermot O’Leary to tell him it was his time to audition in front of Louis Walsh I wouldn’t have been surprised.

The only telling point was the six seconds of Arsene Wenger who said England had previously suffered from ‘Not enough variation’. Tell us about it Arsene.

Yet he could have just as easily been talking about ITV’s coverage, as some of the questions on the piece would have insulted CBeebies viewers.

“Skill or courage?” Gabriel Clark blurted to Jack.

“Courage” Jack replied. Or was it skill? Surely you need both?

“Lineker or Gazza?”

“Gazza”, though one hoped it was the 1990 or 1996 version rather than the poor bloke now.

The “interview” then proceeded to get even more Alan Partridge-esq as Gabriel Clarke - who to be fair is a capable broadcaster and must be frustrated at having to do such dumbed down work – asked young Jack: “Bulldog or Lion?” Aren’t they both representative of England? Or did he mean which animal would you rather keep as a pet?

I half expected the following questions to be “Panda or badger”, “Toblerone or a full English on a large plate?” “Sue Cook or Cliff Thorburne”? “Monkey Tennis or Youth Hostelling with Chris Eubank?”

It’s simply not good enough ITV. If you really want to insult your viewers with such banal ineptitude then simply screen the game and be done with it. Vapid pieces such as this do nobody any favours, not least yourselves.

It was satisfying however to hear Roy Keane typically bring the hyperbole down to size discomforting Chiles in the process - who’s channel had just added to it by broadcasting an overly oleaginous piece on Wilshere to 12 million people. “He’s only played nine games”, the teak tough Irishman sniffed dismissively. “Give the lad a chance”. Chiles stuttered and looked to his straight man Lee Dixon for help. It was that sort of night.

As for Clive Tyldesley, well his take on Moldova pretty much summed up ITV’s coverage. Self satisfying and ignorant, not to mention insulting.

At kick off he crowed: “If we [I thought broadcasters were supposed to be neutral?] can’t beat Moldova then we don’t deserve to get to Brazil”. It is arrogance like that which has blighted England since 1872. Of course Moldova are minnows in terms of International history, money and players, but show them a little more respect. Not to mention your viewers who are well aware of teams England should have beaten in the past, but haven’t. Please.

Later on, apropos of absolutely nothing Tyldesley blurted out, in a form of commentators tourettes: “Martinez compared Ross Barkley to Michael Ballack”. It was like someone retweeting something out of context because they have nothing to say of any note themselves. Thanks Clive, no pressure on the boy then.

And as for his frankly sanctimonious dismissal of Moldovan team FC Sherriff not having many Moldovans in their line up – honestly man, have you seen the Premier League figures that Greg Dyke talked about the other day?

The comment was nothing more than hypocritical, ill-informed and slightly jingoistic – though you could be talking about ITV’s entire coverage, not just the banal ramblings of one of the most vacuous commentators in English football. Though with talent like Clive perhaps ITV should consider importing some foreigners to work for them instead- either that or Clive should get a job at the Daily Mail and write about illegal immigrants eating swans.

5) A view from one of England’s most loyal fans

I talked to a good friend of mine who I have travelled the world with following England, after the game to get his view. Steve McCairns – who hasn’t missed an England game home or away in donkeys years– and who has been to places as varied as Kazakhstan, Brazil, Israel, Russia, The US, not to mention eight tournaments including Japan and South Africa, said of the game: “It was great to see Rickie Lambert smile when he scores for his country and punch the air like it means something”.

“Jack Wilshere might only be playing against Moldova and in plenty of space but he’s the closest thing I’ve seen to Gazza [Steve went to every England game during Euro 96 as well]. Poise, balance, the ability to ride tackles. If he can stay clear of injury that boy could become a game changer at International level He’s the epitome of game intelligence.

“Lampard and Gerrard can play together! (At least against Moldova). The game didn’t tell us anything about our WC credentials but we can be sure Moldova won’t be there – although we can’t be sure FIFA wont host a WC there in 2026 – although having been to Moldova I can vouch for it needing it more than Qatar…”

Good-natured Steve is of course on his way to the Ukraine for Tuesday’s crucial game as we speak, having already been there twice before with England. It’s fans like him that make England one of the best supported teams on the planet – whether Greg Dyke sets any ridiculous targets or not.

Follow Layth on twitter @laythy29

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