Wilshere adds a Spanish touch
Before the World Cup, and especially after Fabio Capello's first defeat as England manager to Spain in February 2009, he was fond of saying the side had to play to their strengths. By that he meant they could not be expected to pass the ball in the way Spain did and instead had to be more direct.
The emergence of Jack Wilshere, however, means that England can play in a way which, if not at the level of Spain, is at least comparable in style: a 4-3-3 system with a little maestro pulling the strings in the centre of midfield.
No player coming into the England team has had the impact of Wilshere since Wayne Rooney established himself in Sven Goran Eriksson's side over the course of 2003. The senior players have been staggered at the confidence of the 19-year-old who plays like a seasoned international and has not been the slightest bit overawed by life with the England senior squad.
It was a sign of Wilshere's confidence that it was he who was leading the defence of Capello after Tuesday's 1-1 draw with Ghana. "Before the World Cup he [Capello] could do no wrong, and since then everyone has been getting on to his back," Wilshere said. "I think we need to give him a break. He is a great manager."
In many respects it is no surprise that Wilshere has thrived. His name has been doing the rounds in football circles for a long time, since his early days in Arsenal's academy and then in the England developmental squads. A child prodigy like Michael Owen, this is the stage that Wilshere was made to play on.
4-3-3 looks here to stay
It has been created fundamentally to accommodate the considerable talents of Wilshere, who said on Tuesday that it was his preferred way of playing. "It's similar to how we play at Arsenal, it allows the midfield to move the ball around, we have more time on the ball to pass it around," he said.
After Capello stuck to the 4-4-2 system throughout the World Cup finals in South Africa, where it looked decidedly old-fashioned up against the Germans' 4-2-3-1 in England's 4-1 defeat, it is curious that he feels now is the right time to change. It is the presence of Wilshere, as well as Scott Parker, previously out of favour, which seems to have convinced the England manager to play this way.
The major question will be where Steven Gerrard fits into this arrangement. If either Parker or Barry is to be the holding player, it looks like two players from Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Wilshere and, potentially, James Milner for the remaining two places.
Capello has previously favoured a four-man midfield, in which Gerrard has started out on the left side of the midfield and then wandered in-field. That system was a way of getting the Liverpool player into the central areas and connecting with Rooney without actually deploying him in the centre of midfield.
England have only at times got the best out of Gerrard, undoubtedly the player of his generation. Against Hungary in the August friendly, his two goals got Capello out of a major hole. The England manager will want to start with him. The question is: where is he best used in a 4-3-3 formation?
Crouch and Green are now outsiders
While the new generation has been given its opportunity over the last two games it has been hard for others in Capello's squad who have found themselves left out in the cold.
Peter Crouch seems to be Capello's striker of last resort despite his record of 22 goals in 42 games for England. By the time Danny Welbeck came on against Ghana, Crouch could count himself as sixth-choice striker, behind even the man who had only joined up with the squad on the morning of the game. That is hard to take for a player who has always done the job asked of him at international level.
Capello protested that Tuesday was a night for trying out new players. "Crouch I know very well," he said, "I tried to find out other things." However, players like Crouch want to play and the demoralising effect of nine days with England without a single minute of action has its effect.
The same goes for goalkeeper Robert Green. Capello has now called him into three squads since initially dropping him after the World Cup, yet Green was not even given the second half on Tuesday when it was hardly of great importance that Joe Hart played. That means Green has not played for England since his error against the United States at the World Cup. If he is to be part of Capello's plans, even as a back-up, then he needs a vote of confidence.
Of the original squad, only Crouch and Green did not play at all in the last two games. They are both useful men to have around. Capello risks alienating them.
Young has taken his chance
Ashley Young's recent emergence as a footballer of international pedigree has been the result of his ability to seize an opportunity when it comes his way. That trait deserted him at Wembley on Tuesday night, when, presented with an open goal, he somehow hit the bar from just three yards out, but overall his performances in the last three England internationals have catapulted him to the forefront of Capello's thoughts.
Young replaced Rooney at half-time in last month's friendly in Denmark, and scored the winner in an impressive 45-minute showing. He was then one of England's better players in the revamped 4-3-3 formation for the victory over Wales on Saturday, winning the penalty that Lampard converted to put England 1-0 up, and then laying on the second goal for Darren Bent.
Young was also England's brightest spark against Ghana, starting nominally on the left of the attack but drifting into more central areas to use his pace and trickery where they could cause most harm. Young's vision to hit an astute 30-yard pass from a deeper, central position to Stewart Downing set up Andy Carroll's first-half goal at Wembley.
Young's emergence is partly a consequence of injuries to Theo Walcott, Aaron Lennon and Adam Johnson, but it is also due to the consistent support of Capello, who has used Aston Villa's 25-year-old attacking midfielder in seven of the country's eight games since last year's World Cup disaster.
Young knows it is all about making the most of your chances. He said following Tuesday's draw: "When I put on the shirt, I've got to put on a good performance. I did that against Wales and I felt I did that again tonight."
Carroll and Bent stand and deliver
At the World Cup last summer England's striking options were so few and far between that Capello turned once more to the 32-year-old Emile Heskey to lead the line, even though he had managed just three goals all season for Aston Villa.
It came as no surprise that Heskey failed to score in any of England's four games, and it came as a relief when he retired from international football on returning home.
In the nine months since, Capello has found not one, but two, centre-forwards to provide an attacking thrust, in tandem with the team's talisman, Rooney.
Carroll scored against Ghana despite clearly being short of fitness, while Bent's goal against Wales meant the Aston Villa striker has scored in his last three appearances for his country.
The marked improvement of Bent and the emergence of the £35m Carroll give Capello far greater options. Carlton Cole has been discarded and Crouch sidelined. With Bent and Carroll both now scoring for England, it is also hard to see where Jermain Defoe fits into England's plans if, as seems likely, Capello perseveres with the 4-3-3 formation that has worked so well in the last two internationals.Reuse content