England's underperforming stars: The weakest links

Why are England misfiring badly? Perhaps it's Chelsea's underperforming duo, or maybe the goalkeeper, or it could be that ultimate conundrum, the captain. By Andy Hunter
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The Independent Online

It is thanks to Sven Goran Eriksson's blessed good fortune - a weak group, the easiest second-round opponent and now a Portugal team plundered by suspension - that England have progressed this far in Germany, yet while the Swede must shoulder the blame for the experimentation and bereft performances that have kept the so-called golden generation in storage, there are other factors behind their underwhelming campaign thus far...

Frank Lampard

Eriksson has exhausted several years, numerous formations and several strange faces attempting to utilise the tremendous gifts of both Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in the same team but while the Liverpool captain has shone despite his manager's instructions in Germany, the Chelsea midfielder has not imposed his Premiership form on this World Cup. In the first half against Sweden, Lampard finally began to influence the pace and flow of the England performance but, sadly, those 45 minutes have been the exception. Fortunate not to be withdrawn against Ecuador, the lack of composure in front of goal that blighted his earlier contributions against Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago created obvious anxiety and appeared to have impacted on his confidence.

John Terry

Another Premiership champion who is yet to truly impose himself on the tournament or fulfil Jose Mourinho's instruction to establish himself as a global name at this World Cup. Terry flatly denied accusations before the Ecuador game that his form had been disappointing in the group stage, though only his most fervent admirer could support that stance beyond his impressive opening display against Paraguay. Perhaps he is judged harshly on account of the outstanding standards he has maintained consistently for two seasons at Chelsea, but he has not been his dominant, flawless self in Germany, a fact illustrated by the unease with which he accepted Fifa's man of the match award in Stuttgart on Sunday.

The lack of options at right-back

Gary Neville's loss for the last three games with a groin problem was an unforeseen and serious setback for Eriksson, despite the Manchester United captain's hesitant start in Frankfurt, but it is the absence of a like-for-like replacement in the England squad that has had a telling impact on the team's subsequent performances. Jamie Carragher is not an adventurous marauder who can compensate for David Beckham's aversion to the by-line, and his poor distribution against Sweden resulted in his relegation to the bench against Ecuador. That resulted in Owen Hargreaves being withdrawn from his favoured position in midfield after one, encouraging game. The search continues...

Paul Robinson

The Tottenham goalkeeper and England's undisputed number one for the past 21 months has strengthened his reputation as a fine shot-stopper against Paraguay, Sweden and Ecuador, admittedly with only one outstanding save in all three matches, but he has not commanded his penalty area with impressive authority. His clearances have been occasionally wayward and route one, and there has been uncertainty between him and his central defenders. Lucky not to have confronted a more ruthless opponent so far.

Absence of a genuine foil for Wayne Rooney

As in the case of Gerrard, England had another outstanding performer against Ecuador who prospered despite Eriksson. England do not witness the best of their finest talent when Rooney is played as a lone striker (perhaps another call to Sir Alex Ferguson is in order, or is that avenue closed for good now?) but with Michael Owen cruelly cut down, Peter Crouch a viable alternative from the substitutes' bench rather than from the start - having tempted too many long balls from his colleagues - and Theo Walcott a gamble too far, the England manager has given himself little option. Expect a more honest and incredulous reaction from Jermain Defoe to his omission from the squad once Eriksson has left the job for good.

David Beckham

The real conundrum in the England set-up. Without him England would not be in the position they are today - of the six goals they have scored in Germany, four have originated from the captain's blessed right foot, supporting Eriksson's stance that he is the finest distributor of a dead ball in the game. Without him, however, it is reasonable to hypothesise that England would not have played quite so badly. Beckham's dead-ball deliveries have, by his own admission, not been up to standard in Germany (with the honourable exceptions of the 60th minute in Stuttgart on Sunday, and the Paraguay own goal) and the pace, adventure and balance that Aaron Lennon has brought to the right flank warrants further inclusion. But at the expense of the set-piece specialist? Not over Sven's dead body.

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