Football: Keegan baffles with his tactics
Which is something of a blessing, because better opponents might expose Kevin Keegan's fifth England team as unbalanced and ill-equipped for the serious business of qualifying for the European Championship finals.
There are no complaints about the individuals. They are all good players, including the debutant, Kieron Dyer, who is rewarded for being the sole bright spark in Newcastle's dark and stormy season. The doubt is over their arrangement.
With Luxembourg planning to defend deep and in depth, the area in front of their penalty box is likely to be highly congested. Width will be crucial to breaking them down, both in the provision of crosses and switching the play. So Keegan has moved the best crosser of the ball in the country, David Beckham, to central midfield. In his stead, on the right, is Steve McManaman, a good dribbler but a poor crosser with either foot and a player who likes to drift inside. On the left is Ray Parlour, a right- footed player who has never played on the left wing nor, previously, started for England.
"I asked [Parlour] a question: Would he play left side for me?" Keegan said yesterday. "I said if he didn't want to I was still going to play him. I would have asked Macca [McManaman] to play that side. He said: `Yeah, I'll play. I haven't played there, but I'll give it a shot'."
Never mind the proviso that he would still play: this was an offer Parlour, with just three brief substitute appearances, could hardly refuse even if Keegan had said, earlier this week: "There's a feeling Ray Parlour should be given a chance in his best position."
Keegan offered succour yesterday when he added: "I think he understands that someone is going to have to grasp that position and it might not be a left-footed player. It might be Ray Parlour."
Meanwhile, Steve Guppy, the best English-qualified left-winger in the country, the provider of more crosses than anyone in the Premiership last season, sits at home in Leicester wondering what he has to do get a chance. His brief stay at St James' Park - he was signed and sold by Keegan - must have been a bad one.
Parlour is not a regular crosser even from the right; Arsenal's style does not require it. But, never fear, if Parlour does not provide there is always Stuart Pearce charging up on the overlap.
Yes, really. Pearce may have moved to central defence three years ago because he felt he no longer had the legs to be a conventional left-back but, said Keegan: "If we're getting possession, and we're getting really pushed up, [Pearce] can get on the outside of Ray Parlour. He's quite capable of doing that, even at 37."
Maybe. But only because he will not have to do much defending. Dyer, 17 years his junior and bursting with energy, is a different case and his selection is a good one. By starting so deep he should get more space than his team-mates and be able to make things happen further forward, just as Rio Ferdinand did in Luxembourg.
England won that match 3-0, but only after the Luxembourgers missed a penalty at 0-1. Beckham played in central midfield that night but did little except acquire a silly booking that still haunts him. Like David Batty, Alan Shearer and Robbie Fowler, he will miss the vital match in Poland on Wednesday if booked again.
After 23 caps, 20 from the start, Beckham is yet to consistently produce the form for England he does for Manchester United. This, said Keegan, was another chance to do so. "He still has things to prove but he's now putting in some very, very mature performances for Man United, drifting inside and giving us a little glimpse of what he could be like in there. Now he has a chance to go and do it. I can see him proving that is where he belongs and, maybe, making Alex [Ferguson] look at it as well."
Michael Owen will start on the substitutes' bench but, with Poland in mind, is expected to be given a run at some stage. It ought, by then, simply to be a matter of how many. Luxembourg are better organised than on their last Wembley appearance in 1982 when Bobby Robson, today's guest of honour, was in charge. They lost 9-0 then but are still a poor side, having lost all five qualifying ties to date. Any English eleven, in any formation, should be good enough to win but the margin may be nearer one than nine.
Dyer's delight, page 30; more football, pages 29-31
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