England set to replace absent Beckham with Wright-Phillips

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The Independent Football

He will not presumably be required to sport new tattoos or dubious haircuts and he will certainly not be expected to make clumsy lunges at opponents, but Shaun Wright-Phillips is likely to be asked to step into David Beckham's England shoes this week.

Sven Goran Eriksson's team fly to Baku today for Wednesday's World Cup qualifying match against Azerbaijan without their captain, who misses the game on two counts. Having suffered a hairline fracture of a rib with his first unnecessarily robust challenge on Ben Thatcher towards the end of Saturday's 2-0 victory over Wales at Old Trafford, an injury which could keep him out of action for a month, Beckham earned his second yellow card of the qualifying competition - and automatic suspension from the next game - with another charge at the same player less than two minutes later.

Wright-Phillips, who scored a stunning goal on his only previous appearance for England when he came on as a substitute in a pre-season friendly against Ukraine in August, is the natural replacement for Beckham. The 22-year-old has made a name for himself with spectacular goals for his club, Manchester City, and Eriksson said he would have no hesitation playing him on Wednesday. "If he's picked in the squad then he's ready to play," Eriksson said.

Selecting Wright-Phillips, however, would have other implications for the team. "If we want to play Shaun Wright-Phillips, I don't think we should play three strikers," Eriksson said. "He's a midfielder, but he's like a striker and he's not used to playing narrow like Frank Lampard or David Beckham can. Maybe he can do it, but he's not used to that role.

"Everything depends on how we want to play - if we want to keep the shape we had against Wales or go back to 4-4-2. To be honest I haven't decided yet. I think we have time to make that decision."

Choosing Wright-Phillips would almost certainly mean dropping Jermain Defoe, who played alongside Michael Owen on Saturday and in front of Wayne Rooney, who was "in the hole". Owen, whose place had been in doubt because of doubts about his form and his shortage of first-team chances with Real Madrid this season, performed well and Eriksson said after the game that he expected the former Liverpool striker to captain the team in Beckham's absence in Baku.

With Rooney set to play alongside Owen, there would be no place in the starting line-up for Defoe, which would also open up another midfield position. Joe Cole might be regarded as a luxury in an away match, Phil Neville has been off the England scene for some time and Jermaine Jenas is inexperienced, which could all point to Owen Hargreaves, who came on as a substitute for Beckham on Saturday, filling the final midfield place beside Wright-Phillips, Frank Lampard and Nicky