England must rely on familiar faces to erase horror of World Cup

Eight of the side that played Germany are expected to start tonight as Capello's team kick off Euro campaign
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The Independent Football

There are not many linguistic flourishes in Fabio Capello's English so his reference yesterday to one of the many cinematic spin-offs from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein novel was always going to be a high point in what was a potentially tense build-up to England's first Euro 2012 qualifier.

On the eve of tonight's game against Bulgaria at Wembley it was hard not to think that Capello had hit the nail on the head in a way even he would have found hard to imagine. Like Shelley's famously innovative fictitious scientist, Capello must also construct a homogeneous functioning entity from lots of mismatched constituent parts.

In Frankenstein's case it was a ghoulish monster. For Capello, it is an England football team. On occasions it has been difficult to decide which of the two is more horrifying to watch.

There has been much discussion of how Capello will put together a successful side to face Bulgaria tonight from a squad that, particularly in defence, has lost many of its major figures. In fact, the most likely first XI will include eight of the 11 players who began the match against Germany in the second round of the World Cup finals 68 days ago. Only the injury-enforced absence of John Terry and Frank Lampard, as well as Joe Hart's ascent to first-choice goalkeeper, makes it different.

Otherwise, Glen Johnson, Matthew Upson, Ashley Cole, James Milner, Steven Gerrard, Gareth Barry, Wayne Rooney and Jermain Defoe are the same faces that started in Bloemfontein. It is not Capello's fault that there is not a new generation of English players capable of completely usurping their elders.

Against Bulgaria tonight and Switzerland in Basle on Tuesday, the Capello regime will be thoroughly tested. The formation he picks will be crucial but his players' response will be the defining element. Since the Germany game, the retirements of certain players have felt like the tactical resignations of cabinet ministers plotting against a Prime Minister.

The criticism of the England manager has been less temperate from some quarters than ever but even Capello, with his lofty attitude towards those who seek to judge him, recognises that tonight and Tuesday are central to dispelling the World Cup malaise.

As for the formation, there are strong hints that Capello will play 4-3-3, potentially with Rooney on the left as he played for Manchester United while Cristiano Ronaldo was still at the club. That would enable England to defend with nine players when they do not have the ball – one of the promises that Capello made yesterday.

The England manager confirmed at different stages yesterday that Barry and Milner would play in midfield and that Defoe and Rooney would play together but he did not go as far as outlining his formation. He tends to have little patience for closer examinations of his tactics, often dismissing the more orthodox distinctions between 4-3-3 or 4-4-2.

It was a question about his teams requiring greater flexibility that prompted Capello to dismiss his questioners as "a lot of [aspiring] managers". He said: "Where are the different styles? 9-1? Teams play 9-1. Where is the different style? Is there a difference between 4-4-2, 4-5-1 or 9-1? You are happy to write different numbers. One forward, nine defenders. Five attacking? Five defending?

"That is the modern style. You can see it in Barcelona, other teams. All the players have to defend, all the players have to go forward. That's the modern style, and we played this style, always. When you win you play the perfect style. When you lose, you [the press] question positions on the pitch. Why, why, why? It's your job. It's my job to find the best solution."

Whatever his protestations, against Hungary last month Capello played a much more obvious 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation that was a contrast to the 4-4-2 he stuck to rigidly during the World Cup finals. Yesterday he said: "Against Bulgaria we will play one forward when they have the ball and, when we go forward, we'll have more." Which suggests he will play something like 4-5-1 tonight.

If it is to be 4-3-3/4-5-1, the question is whether Rooney or Defoe is the lone striker. Relying upon Defoe to defend takes the kind of optimism that is in short supply around England currently, so it is likely to be the Spurs man who is the last man left in attack. As for Rooney's general state, Capello said that he was confident that the player had got back to his "Rooney-style" against West Ham on Saturday.

The England manager is, according to those around the England hotel, a great deal more relaxed with the players than he has been in the previous two and a half years. He had never previously been one for small talk and jokes but that has changed now. That it is a result of him discovering that they did not respond well to the boot-camp atmosphere of South Africa would seem pretty self-evident.

As for Capello's "gods and monsters" line, there is no doubt that it was given to him by a member of the Football Association staff who is rather more capable with the English language and has an ear for a phrase that will make headlines. It is an encouraging sign that Capello has decided he has expressed enough regrets for South Africa and is starting to turn the spotlight on some of his more excessive critics.

Of course, nothing will do but a win tonight. If his team fail to do that then Capello will look vulnerable and isolated. He may decide himself that it is time to stop copping the criticism for his players and get out. Like his predecessor Steve McClaren, he has uttered his best line while at his most embattled. Capello will hope that things go a little better from here.