Battle for England starting places turns less than friendly

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The Independent Football

The term "meaningless friendly" has long been a cliche but with England's game in Copenhagen last Wednesday it was finally exposed for what some of us have always held it to be: an oxymoron. Poor indeed would be the manager/coach who could derive no meaning from 90 minutes of international football, let alone the preparation and training sessions preceding the match itself.

So Fabio Capello and his staff have filed away some useful information, just like their contemporaries with all the other teams involved last week, including the new Wales manager Gary Speed – whose notes will make grim reading after a dismal 3-0 defeat by the Republic of Ireland had seasoned observers asking whether it was the weakest ever Welsh side.

It would have been foolish for England to go into the forthcoming European Championship tie in Cardiff without a game in four long months, and an away fixture against solid opposition, played under a retractable roof, fitted the bill.

Inevitably there were withdrawals, which as ever allowed opportunities for others: so Jack Wilshere was given half a game instead of the eight minutes on his debut, confirming that he is unfazed by hype or pressure, but also that he would be better unleashed as a creative force, with a more defensive player alongside him; Scott Parker, belatedly recalled to the colours, suggested in the second half that he could fill that role.

Darren Bent justified Capello's claim that he has developed into a more rounded performer with his movement and pressing; the other goalscorer, Ashley Young, reproduced something of his club form.

"Now there are some new players," Capello said. Yet if they are to become first choice, whether against Wales or later on, others will have to make way. That is the problem for the aforementioned quartet, as well as the manager. Assume, improbable as it sounds, that everyone is fit next month; if a defensive midfield pairing of Frank Lampard and Wilshere was deemed to be adequate, then Steven Gerrard would have to be fitted into a 4-4-1-1 or 4-2-3-1 by pushing him out on to the left side again.

Young could only be accommodated in his new role by dropping Rooney, which is admittedly a less unthinkable proposition than it would have been in the past. Should Capello take that huge step, or find Rooney unfit and Andy Carroll available, a tempting option for at least part of the game would be to have Carroll – who would have played against Denmark if he had been fit – flicking balls on for Bent.

However impractical at this stage, an extra friendly to try out that combination would have been useful – and full of meaning.

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