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Old habits die hard

October 8, 2008
By Dale Johnson
(Archive)

As certain as night follows day, Frank Lampard popped up at England's press conference on Tuesday proclaiming he could play alongside Steven Gerrard despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard
Empics / MikeEgertonThe Gerrard-Lampard debate is coming back into focus for the England camp
Gerrard, back in the England side after missing the last two qualifiers following a groin operation, is very much in the thoughts of coach Fabio Capello as he prepares for this Saturday's World Cup qualifier against Kahzakstan at Wembley. But Lampard is too.

With Joe Cole out of the team through injury he is forced to make at least one change from the team which thrashed Croatia in Zagreb. It seems yet another England coach will turn to desperate measures as Gareth Barry is dropped, or rested, for one last throw of the Gerrard-Lampard dice. Gerrard and Lampard will be reunited in the midfield to, once again, try and prove they can fit into the same team.

While Capello has shown his willingness to try the untested in giving Theo Walcott his head, to devastating effect, he seems reluctant to do the same with others - most notably Barry's Aston Villa team-mate Ashley Young.

Gerrard's poor performance on the left of midfield against the Czech Republic means he is unlikely to be tried there again and with Walcott untouchable on the opposite flank the only option to accommodate both players is to omit Barry.

Capello may receive few answers from this game, however. Granted, England have stumbled and tripped over lesser opponents in recent years but are expected to beat the Kazakhs with the minimum amount of fuss on their own turf. Should this happen there will be questions about how much stock you can put on performances.

The flogging of dead horses is a disease which promises to trouble a succession of England managers. It's a problem that bewitched both Sven Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren, both insistent they could find the right formula to include both players. Few are convinced that Capello will find the answer with many believing the fine performance against Croatia came as a result of their being little room for a shoehorning manoeuvre.

Ashley Young
Empics / MikeEgertonAshley Young has been criminally overlooked
The decision to constantly overlook Young is bewildering. The 23-year-old former Watford player appeared to be a natural replacement for the injured Cole on the left. Belarus on Wednesday forms the other part of the qualifying double-header.

Instead, it is Shaun Wright-Phillips who appears to have benefited from Cole's misfortune in what is a meteoric rise in his stock. Little over a month ago he couldn't get a kick at Stamford Bridge and was well down the pecking order. Maybe David Bentley, not in the squad this time, will be 'the new Wright-Phillips' as he finds himself benched and out of sorts at beleaguered Tottenham.

Wright-Phillips returns to the squad for the first time since Capello's first match in charge against Switzerland eight months ago and there is the feeling of another 'square peg, round hole' philosophy.

Young has been one of the most consistent performers in the Premier League over the last 12 months, his creative instincts and dead-ball ability making him a vital weapon in Martin O'Neill's team. He was also in the PFA Team of the Season for 2007/08 which for a player outside of the big four is rare with David James was the only other player to fill that criteria. With two goals and three assists already this term he's begun in similarly impressive form.

That does not appear to have impressed Capello as Young has has seen just 36 minutes of senior action since the Italian took charge.

Granted, the England Under-21 side does have an important two-legged play-off against Wales for a place in the European Championships this week but the omission of Young is no one-off. Walcott was clearly deemed too valuable to be left with the rest of England's promising talent. It is puzzling why there is no place in the senior squad for a player deemed one of the 11 best in the Premier League a few months ago, especially in such a problem position as the left side of midfield.

For now, Capello looks likely to return to the tried, trusted and failed Lampard-Gerrard axis with another player fielded out of position on the left wing. Maybe it was wishful thinking to presume that this was a thing of the past.