No No. 9 Needed

World class international sides do not need to possess a prolific striker within their player pool in order to succeed at the highest level. Italy proved just as much with their 2006 World Cup squad as the awkward Luca Toni managed to record just two goals during that competition. The goal-scoring burden fell on the shoulders of the supporting Azzurri cast, with players such as Andrea Pirlo, Francesco Totti, Gianluca Zambrotta, Alessandro Del Piero, Fabio Grosso and Marco Materazzi lending their weight towards the goal-getting effort. England manager Fabio Capello does not have the luxury of calling up a relentlessly net-bulging No. 9 like the Alan Shearers, Jimmy Greaves and the Bobby Charltons of the past, so, bar Michael Owen - should the northern crock ever return to a sustained run of full match fitness - the Italian tactician should arguably focus more on where the Three Lions are blessed with quality in abundance: the midfield. By skirting clear of England's favoured 4-4-2 formation - a system that has not borne fruit for an unwanted number of years now - and opting for the more continental and flexible 4-2-3-1, Capello can suitably answer the question of whether Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard can play in the same team together. All too often they were slotted into the centre of the 4-4-2 and, consequently, England fans were left underwhelmed as they failed to dovetail. Under Rafael Benitez at Liverpool, Gerrard is flourishing more than ever and calls from esteemed figureheads such as Zinedine Zidane have declared that the Scouse skipper is the best in the world. The influence he has at club-level certainly seems to be unrivalled and so Capello's primary task must be replicating that on the international arena, by, presumably, continuing to deploy him in the No. 10's role. This, however, would mean that Wayne Rooney would be asked to play in an unfamiliar role in front of Gerrard. Consequently the greatest parts of the Manchester United star's game - his work-rate, his team-work and his ability to dribble in from deep - would suffer. How can you accommodate the pair? A 4-4-2 can often be too rigid and concrete, with set roles too defined, whereas the 4-2-3-1 has room for negotiation, meaning that Gerrard could even be positioned further up-field. It is possible that he could perform the same duties as his club's local rival Tim Cahill has recently been doing with Everton while they suffered from a striking crisis. Both Gerrard and Rooney can effectively share the role of the spearheading trequartista. They would then have to rely on an incoming midfield or two - from Frank Lampard; Theo Walcott; Ashley Young; Shaun Wright-Phillips; the resurgent Aaron Lennon; and Joe Cole (when he returns) - to take advantage of the second ball. Comparisons between Gerrard and Lampard are futile and ultimately pointless. They play different roles. Gerrard now supports Fernando Torres while Lampard is effectively an attack-minded box-to-box midfielder. His defensive work is often understated. He is strong in the tackle and his positional sense in the deeper areas of the midfield is nothing short of wise. He can also playmake, can execute the trivela pass to perfection, and in the aforementioned 4-2-3-1 he can be utilised in either the '2', or the '3', dependent on the strength of the opposition (and how much protection is required by the '2'). Proposed line-up against middle-tier opposition: Back 5 Lampard - Barry/ Hargreaves Walcott - Gerrard - Young Rooney Proposed line-up against strong opposition: Back 5 Carrick/ Barry - Hargreaves/ King Gerrard - Lampard - Walcott Rooney Of course, the positions are not set - the front four effectively have free roles - but with this system England are able to field their strongest and most dangerous players in a formation that many of them will be familiar with at club-level, without having to field players such as Stewart Downing and Emile Heskey who, despite some defending their effectiveness on the international stage, have enjoyed nothing more than a media sympathy vote. It's time for England to evolve. Otherwise another penalty knock-out heartbreak beckons - should they even qualify in the first place.


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