What We Learn From Capello’s “First Eleven”

This is more like it – a team so utterly unlike the one I’d hazarded as to make the Switzerland game the most interesting and exciting since Sven’s debut against Spain. That is, of course, if the Beeb have read the runes correctly.

David James; Wes Brown, Rio Ferdinand, Matthew Upson, Ashley Cole; David Bentley, Stephen Gerrard (c), Owen Hargreaves, Ashley Young; Joe Cole, Wayne Rooney.

There are surprises everywhere. David James cracks open the coffin lid on his career yet again, and is now in danger of becoming a significant keeper in the history of the national side. No one dreamed of Upson and Brown in defence, nor of Joe Cole in the hole, nor of both Young and Bentley getting starts.

I’d half expected Capello to come up with a “real bastard of a team” as Don Revie put it, one designed to go a long period undefeated at least until confidence built up. But this is a beauty of a side, full of speed and skill.

So the good news is in: Capello trusts in skill and technique over the good old English virtues. In this side, Gerrard and Hargreaves are reduced to the status of cloggers. Neither Young nor Bentley are of a mind just to bang in mindless crosses a la Lennon or Downing, and we can look forward to exciting cut-ins and the ball arriving to English feet for a change.

And Capello’s self-confidence comes across loud and clear. It’s a new formation, and a clear tactical departure from the McClaren days. Capello clearly believes that he can get his men playing this way this quickly. And behind the novelty is a refreshing simplicity. All Gerrard and Hargreaves have to do, really, is protect the defence and give the ball to Cole, Bentley or Young and let them get on with it. I hope Capello has it in mind to give Michael Owen a shot at playing in front of this midfield, because he must be salivating at the prospect.

There’s little sign of Capello’s recently-vaunted defensive streak. This is an attacking side: he’s clearly seen enough in this group of players to feel ready to take the game to Switzerland. I hope this is a sign of things to come.

So many of the old England questions are answered in this team. There’s no left-sided problem. There’s no no-Beckham problem. And although one wonders how close Brown would have been to the side were a fit Gary Neville available, I don’t think John Terry is going to be missed – and I suspect the Chelsea captain has a bigger problem on his hands than merely hanging on to the armband. There’s creativity in the middle, with Joe Cole, for the first time since Gascoigne was forcibly retired, and Gascoigne never enjoyed having a Rooney to provide for.

It’s the first England line-up for a decade that can have Owen on the bench and not look fatally weakened. And I’m not forgetting Crouch. Should he come on in front of this midfield, he’ll have passes to his feet for the first time since he came onto the international team. We’ll finally see him at his best. So long as Gerrard can be persuaded not to bang high balls at him in the boneheaded manner we saw against Croatia and so frustratingly against Portugal in 2006.

I doubt Gerrard is quite the communicator that Capello’s made him out to be, but given that my Hargreaves-for-skipper was fantasy, I find it hard not to wish him luck.

I’m revising my scoreline – upwards. With a fair wind behind them, this lot could put away four or five.

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4 responses to “What We Learn From Capello’s “First Eleven”

  1. I’m sorry, but Downing is a better crosser with both feet than Young. And while crossing is certainly a weak point with Lennon, he’s more skilful on the ball and more likely to attack the penalty box than Bentley. Plus, with Rooney on his own up front, there’s not going to be much point crossing the ball anyway…

  2. Oh, and Gascoigne ‘forcibly retired’? He was a wife-beating alcoholic who just wasn’t up to it any more both physically and mentally.

    And while he was playing he had such poor quality forwards as Lineker, Shearer, Sheringham, Ferdinand, Fowler and so on to feed.

  3. Downing is a good crosser, but he doesn’t have the pace to get into good positions to cross at international level most of the time.

    I think Lennon’s time will come, but he will need to learn to cross more reliably. Attacking the box is useful, but you need the threat of a cross to open the space to do so. I also suspect that Gerrard will be doing some driving into the box, rather than simply “clogging” all the time.

    As for the value of a cross, kept low it can be a threat even when there’s only Rooney and Cole in the box.

  4. BTW, since I’m stuck in foreign lands this week I’ll end up relying on this site for a meaningful summary of the game!