The Three Lions resume meaningful international competition this Friday v Bulgaria at Wembley stadium as weary and untrusting eyes focus on equal parts Fabio Capello’s management and various members of the new look England squad. Bulgaria is the opponent and three points towards Euro 2012 qualification is the goal.
A little over two months to the day when England were eliminated by Germany in the 2010 World Cup and with Fabio Capello still at the helm, England will take to the now impressive Wembley pitch somewhat ravaged yet somewhat optimistic as new blood hopes to emerge on the international stage.
Injury has claimed John Terry, Frank Lampard, Peter Crouch, and still Rio Ferdinand at the heart of the England defense.
The good news for England is that they boast some quality young players who are currently in form at club level. Theo Walcott on the right side of midfield in attack for Arsenal leads the Premier League in scoring while Ashley Young of Aston Villa, Adam Johnson, James Milner and the unstoppable Joe Hart in goal, all at Manchester City, have enjoyed fine starts to the Premier League season.
Capello has a decision to make both with personnel and an England set up hopefully oblivious to the failed 4-4-2 of World Cup 2010. At home in the comfortable confines of Wembley, will Capello change his tried 4-4-2 and elect to implement a more preferred continental set up of 4-2-3-1?
For England, a probable line up resembles something close to Hart in goal with a back four of Johnson, Jagielka, Upson or Dawson, and Ashley Cole at left back. Capello will have a decision to make should he change his 4-4-2, yet in actuality, common intellect tells me he won’t. I foresee Walcott on the right side of midfield next to Gerrard and Barry with James Milner on the left, maybe Ashley Young if Capello feels adventurous. Defoe, it match fit, will likely partner Rooney up front.
Still, Capello could pull a stunner and implement the future of European footballing set ups, the tried and true World Cup 4-2-3-1. In this formation, Steven Gerrard could sit behind Rooney up front while Captain Gerrard would be flanked by Walcott and Milner in attack. Barry and possibly Carrick would sit back to protected the back four. On paper, the formation is sound as long as the attacking wingers, again, likely Walcott and Milner or Adam Johnson, track back to help in defense when needed. Questions abound over Steven Gerrard’s ability to push forward in that forward attacking and central role. The Gerrard of a few years ago would have thrived in the middle of the ‘3’, yet recent form, besides a brace in a friendly last month, suggests otherwise.
The 4-2-3-1 can be a valuable set up in aiding possession in midfield because of the extra man advantage. The formation also requires a strong player up front such as Rooney who can hold up the ball while the wingers and or central play-maker come into play to support him. Time will tell whether Capello will risk the 4-4-2 or experiment with a new England set up. So early in the qualification process, it may not be such a bad move to try it.
England fans will simply want to see change. A change from the squad who so underwhelmed during the summer and a change which proves England players, minus the odd exception, still have heart and desire to represent their country. A hard fought yet committed and creative 1-0 win and a performance resulting in progress from a batch of the younger England players will be enough to see England and Capello through the weekend and to the eventual meet up with Switzerland on Tuesday.
Although England should take the points on offer, Bulgaria shouldn’t be overlooked. All time leading scorer for Bulgaria and main threat Dimitar Berbatov of Manchester United has recently called it quits on his international career. Yet the Bulgarians who will take the field on Friday include a respectable batch of various European league representatives and current Premier League midfielders Martin Petrov now at Bolton, Aston Villa’s ever energetic general Stiliyan Petrov, and expected to lead the line, Parma’s Valeri Bojinov formerly of Manchester City.
My Prediction: a modest win, either 1-0 or 2-1, but a victory at home that shows a new look England. An England with purpose, direction, and maybe just a little passion.