FOOTBALL: THE ROUTE TO GOAL: HOW ENGLAND SCORE

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The Independent Online
When Alan Shearer and Les Ferdinand were struggling to establish lines of communication in the early part of last season Kevin Keegan pointed out that it takes at least a dozen games for strikers to adapt to one another. This makes sense - it also makes you wonder, after glancing at the accompanying table, how England manage to score any goals at all.

The most revealing feature is not so much England's reliance on Shearer as the sheer number of partnerships they have tried. Since making his debut in early 1992 Shearer has played 30 internationals and had 11 different partners, another 12 partnerships have been tried without him in the past three years.

Even more damning is that 13 of these 23 combinations were not even given 90 minutes to get to know each other. Poor Robbie Fowler has had six partners already, only Sheringham for more than 90 minutes. All this while trying to establish himself. Injuries do complicate a coach's life but these figures suggest questions about some aspects of team selection.

Statistics, of course, have been known to lie and these are no different. Shearer's debut partnership with David Hirst would appear to be his best - a goal every 45 minutes, but they only had 45 minutes and by all accounts did not link well. More revealing is that England, as a team, have scored once every 48 minutes during the 13 matches he and Sheringham have played together. This is especially impressive when the importance of several of these games is taken into account.

England have also prospered when Shearer is partnered by Nick Barmby and Ian Wright while the Sheringham/Ferdinand combination is theoretically their most potent of all with an England goal every 38 minutes (they played against Georgia, Hungary and Bulgaria).

England have scored every 57 minutes with Shearer playing compared to every 76 without over the last three years. The player himself has a goal every 194 minutes with that rate improving to one every 96 since Euro 96 began. Incidentally, of his 13 England goals only one of them, against Moldova, has been away from Wembley.

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