Reservations about reserves

Hmm… hardly convincing was it?

England beat Belarus 3-0 last night – without Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole, David James and Emile Heskey – who have played in most of England’s matches under Fabio Capello.

The team are already taking a shoe-ing in other quarters for not setting the world alight in a dead rubber.  Personally, I feel that many of the players should have had more than enough motivation to put in a stellar performance:  a full-house at Wembley; the last competitive game before the World Cup; and those World Cup places up for grabs.

Mostly, they didn’t seize the chance to push their claim for a place in the World Cup squad – demonstrating England’s reliance on the fitness of a few key players.

Peter Crouch rose (no pun intended) to the challenge.  Two goals for the 6’7″ target-man about all you can ask of a striker.

It gives me no pleasure to report that Glen Johnson did not excel as I had hoped he might in a previous blog.

In just the first 20 minutes I counted two occasions where he gave the ball away cheaply which ended in an attacking chance for the opposition.  Fortunately for him Belarus lacked the attacking power to fully punish those errors.  I fear World Cup qualified teams may not be so generous.

Ben Foster made one excellent eye-catching save – another dent to Rob Green’s World Cup hopes and his relationship with Rio Ferdinand.

But England have qualified.  Mission accomplished – in some style too.  Next blog I’ll pick my England squad for South Africa – and I’ll predict Capello’s too.

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There’s something about Johnson…

For a while now Glen Johnson (featured in the lovely video below) has been bothering me.

Not in a prank calls, sending pizzas I didn’t order, hanging around outside my house way – more a slight nagging feeling.  A memory of something in the darker recesses of my mind (a scary place) that wanted to come out into the light.

Then, whilst watching the Ukraine v England match it came to me.  It came to me when Andriy Shevchenko (that fine example of why managers and not chairman should buy players) beat Ashley Cole for pace.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Shevchenko – beat Ashley Cole for pace.

The same Shevchenko who looked incapable for beating an egg during those wallet-lining years and months at Stamford Bridge.

It was then I saw it.  Glen Johnson is Ashley Cole.  Albeit a right-footed one – but also the Ashley Cole circa 2001.

This Cole was such a poor defender people toyed with the idea of playing both him and Wayne Bridge in the same team – so as to accomodate his defensive inadequacies whilst not missing out on his rampaging runs forwards.

Ashley Cole 2009 is no Franco Baresi (nor even a Paulo Maldini) but his defending has improved immeasurably since then.

Chicken & egg

With Johnson we are stuck in the chicken and egg situation.  Should England invest more experience/caps in him in the hope that he will improve as Cole has?   He has, after all, four years on his Chelsea counterpart.

I like Johnson, I want him to do well – same as I do any player in an England shirt – even the easily unlikable Cole.  However, his defensive naivety is glaring even to the most casual viewer.

At one point in the match against Ukraine, after one of his many fruitless-forward-forays (rolls off the tongue nicely that) he was caught out of position as Ukraine counter-attacked.

Johnson had jinked inside onto his weaker left foot and lost the ball in the centre of the pitch.  His team-mates are obviously ready for this and the defence all stepped across the pitch one place – which left England with Ashley Cole effectively playing centre-half and Johnson at left-back.  Bizzare.

The result?  A tame cross which would have been dealt with easily caused massed panic with everyone in unfamiliar territory.  It ended with two defenders leaving it to one another and the ball bouncing just wide of the goal.  In the World Cup a mistake like that could be the difference between progress and an early flight home.

Learning curve

I sincerely hope Johnson will improve his defending – that is after all why he is in the team.  England do not need another candidate to be right-winger – there are already numerous candidates for the role.

At Liverpool, playing in the Champions League and fighting for the title he will find himself on a steep learning curve.

All that said, he will probably play a blinder tonight (against Belarus) and all his defensive mistakes will be glossed over again.

As it happens the best thing to ever happen to Johnson’s career could well be out of his hands.  If France, Argentina and Portugal all fail to make the World Cup (as is a distinct possibility) he will be spared the task of facing Franck Ribery, Simão Sabrosa or the great Lionel Messi.

I know… the mere thought fills me with dread too.

P.S. I noted with interest that David James looks likely to miss the Belarus game through injury.  Another opportunity missed for Robert Green.  Thanks a bunch Rio.

Rio’s blues could cost Green

Rio Ferdinand is currently being hauled over the coals after his chronic lapse in the match against Ukraine.   Many are questioning his place in the team if not the squad – at least until he’s 100% fit, both physically and mentally.

However, Rio’s lapse which resulted in Rob Green’s red card (the first England goalkeeper to be sent off) – and it’s the West Ham man who may end up paying the price for Ferdinand’s all too familiar lapse in concentration.

Green was just starting to establish himself in the England team.  Having been picked ahead of the returning David James, Green lined up against Ukraine for his sixth consecutive England cap.  His run started back in June, away to Kazakhstan and quadrupled Green’s caps – from two to eight.

After the much trumpeted Ben Foster has flattered to deceive for both club and country Green found himself in the box seat to be James’ understudy for the World Cup in South Africa.

Indeed, by picking Green ahead of the fit-again James, England boss Fabio Capello had sent a clear message that even the seemingly inked in James’ place wasn’t safe.  James had lost his place through injury and Green, stepping into the breach had performed well – he deserved to keep his place.

It was a smart bit of management by Capello – the message being: “Take your chance when it comes and World Cup places are still up for grabs.”  With the likes of Joe Cole, Michael Owen, Gabriel Agbonlahor and many more setting their sights on South Africa this was a great carrot dangled by the gaffer.

Thirteen minutes into the action in Dnipropetrovsk, Artem Milevskiy was in a heap and Green’s World Cup dreams hang by a thread.   Ferdinand stood, statue-like watching as Milevskiy darted past him, exposing Green horribly.

James was called on from the bench (also denting Aaron Lennon’s World Cup hopes as he was sacrificed) and Green is now suspended for the only remaining competitive match before the World Cup.  The errant Foster has been recalled to the squad for the match against Belarus.

Portsmouth ‘keeper James is still the most likely to start between the posts when England’s World Cup campaign kicks-off.  However, as recent knocks have shown James is becoming more injury prone as he ages – and as we all know only too well every knock seems to take longer to heal with every passing year.

Green position as first alternative looked assured after some steady performances in James’ absence.  However, the Hammers’ stopper still lacks top level experience – not helped by his dismissal and subsequent suspension.  Assuming he makes Capello’s squad he’ll have only eight caps – plus any more he can glean in the meaningless friendlies before the tournament.

Should the worst happen and James pick up a knock during the tournament would you pitch in a relative novice against the likes of Brazil or Germany?  The prospects of the much improved (and 40-capped) Paul Robinson are looking healthier by the day.