I wonder how much Frank Lampard enjoyed watching England’s victory over Bulgaria on Friday?
It is one of the natural laws of football that whenever you are injured, you look a great player if the team loses without you and a disposable player when they win. It may all be different come tomorrow night.
Exactly three years ago, Lampard missed England’s opening qualifier of the season having scored against Germany at Wembley in an August friendly. Gareth Barry was drafted in to partner Steven Gerrard, and England duly reeled off three successive 3-0 wins over Israel, Russia and Estonia. Lampard became an England substitute.
The episode is largely forgotten – partly because England subsequently lost dramatically decisive matches to Russia and Croatia, and partly because all of Steve McClaren’s successes have been selectively wiped from the popular records in a rather Orwellian manner.
Lampard will play many more times for England, but another victory in Basle tomorrow may delay his next appearance for longer than he would like.
Two years ago, England famously won 4-1 in Croatia. The central midfield partnership that night?... Lampard and Barry. Gerrard was injured, and only an injury to Joe Cole let him back into the team.
Readers of this blog will know that both Fabio Capello and 4-4-2 have bigger fans than me. I admit that it was to my surprise that Friday’s variation on the system worked such a treat for the manager.
If the balance of the team can be maintained, it may well be the best formula for qualification. But Lampard should only play if he is replacing Barry or Gerrard.
The biggest conclusion to draw from the World Cup experience could be that you need one ‘team’ to qualify, and another to excel at the finals. Goal-getters like Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch may fit the bill when you are in need of men to snap up the bountiful chances England should create against lesser-ranked teams.
I think tournament football requires a more grown-up approach to winning games.
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