Football: Continuity the key for England

European Championship: Keegan keeps team changes to minimum for vital match against Sweden
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WORKING ON the time-honoured basis of, to quote his own phrase, "if it ain't broke don't fix it", Kevin Keegan yesterday went as close as he could to naming an unchanged team for tomorrow's European Championship qualifier with Sweden at Wembley. In doing so he faithfully followed his policy, learned at the door of Bill Shankly's boot room, of letting the opposition worry about England instead of the other way round.

Unchanged, that is, from the last competitive match, the 3-1 victory over Poland in March. There are a raft of changes from the intervening inconsequential friendly in Hungary but only two from the Poland match. Gary Neville, who is injured, is replaced by his brother Phil; Steve McManaman, who has been left out of the squad following the recent death of his mother, is replaced by David Batty, with Tim Sherwood moving from midfield anchor to the left. Both Batty and the younger Neville did play against Hungary.

Sherwood is not expected to be a left-winger, Graeme Le Saux will provide the width from left-back on that flank. Neville and Beckham will share crossing duties on the right, though Beckham has licence to drift inside.

Such is the pace of change, there are only five survivors from the team who lost 2-1 to Sweden in September: David Seaman, who had a poor game that day, Le Saux, Sol Campbell, Paul Scholes and Alan Shearer. Keegan will hope the team's attitude is even more divergent. In Stockholm their confidence proved fragile once Sweden cancelled out their early lead.

The lack of a natural left-sided midfielder apart, and Keegan can hardly be blamed for the dearth of suitable candidates, the team is a well-balanced one. In defence the central pair are not the best distributors of the ball but they are good defenders. In attack Andy Cole and Shearer linked promisingly against Poland and Scholes, who scored a hat-trick that day, should again offer a deep-lying threat.

The presence of Phil Neville who, Beckham said, likes to push forward more than Gary, will increase his options. Beckham accepts he is yet to perform consistently for England but Keegan hopes he will now flourish.

"He will look back on the European Cup final and think: `Yes, I can play in that central position'," Keegan said, "but we want the best of both worlds. We want him narrow at times but also those fantastic crosses.

"I understand why he wants to play in the centre, you get more involved, it is where he wants to go one day. But he is also sensible enough to know that at the moment he is the best this country and Manchester United have as a right-sided player.

"No one here is saying to David you play on the right, you play wide and just get crosses in. We want him to do whatever he sees is right, if the game takes him inside for five minutes that's fine. You put your trust in players, you talk to them, tell them what may and may not happen with the opposition, then you leave it to them. So far they have responded fantastically. Players like responsibility, they respond to it."

This is one of the fundamentals of Keegan's man-management. His infectious enthusiasm is still fresh to most of the team and, to judge from the relaxed air around the camp, they have reacted positively to it.

David Batty, who knows him better than most having played under Keegan at St James' Park, expects this to be reflected at Wembley. "He is just the same as at Newcastle," said Batty, who has moved on to Leeds since Keegan's departure. "At Newcastle we would take the way we trained during the week on to the pitch on Saturdays. We won more games than we lost and entertained a lot of people on the way. The players really enjoyed it under him."

Batty, who is in his eighth year as an international, the longest of any outfielder in the present squad, added of his fourth England coach: "He has no favourites. He mucks in with everybody whether they be a big name or someone who has just come into the squad. He's a quality person as well as a quality manager."

Keegan has admitted that his motivational techniques stopped working towards the end of his time at Newcastle "because the players had heard it all before" but so far there is no sign of that happening with England.

As if to underline this Batty added: "I've always believed, as I think the gaffer has done, that it is more about us than them and if we play at the top of our game we'll beat them. That is the confidence we have. There is a lot of pride in the team and we are looking forward to it."