Gerrard finds a potential partner in selfless Parker

 

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The Independent Online

Fred and Ginger, Charles and Di, Cameron and Clegg. Partnerships never go out of fashion, but some work better than others. In football they are crucial to a team in central defence, down the flanks, in central midfield and in attack, but for international managers they are hard to build, given the rarity of fixtures and paucity of training time.

The recognised shortcut is to use club partnerships. The USSR were finalists in the 1988 Euros with a team largely drawn from Dynamo Kiev. The current Spain side is constructed primarily from Barcelona and Real Madrid and half the German team play for Bayern Munich.

With the number of foreign players in the English game, that option is not available to Roy Hodgson. But he has sought to utilise club links where possible. Last week, against Norway, three past and present Everton players were in defence and three Liverpool players in more advanced positions. Yesterday, England began with a trio of Chelsea players in defence, including the centre-half pairing, and a front two who have spent a year together at Old Trafford.

However, Ashley Young has only played centrally for Manchester United in tandem with Dimitar Berbatov, and then not often. Thus there were times when neither he nor Danny Welbeck seemed sure who should be working the shoulder of the last defender and who should be dropping deep to link play. With England struggling to gain and retain possession both were often isolated. But the interchange which created Welbeck's deftly-taken goal hinted at an understanding which could be of long-term value to England.

In central midfield, as the casualties pile up, there are no such short cuts. With Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes withdrawing from contention, there is no club duo available. If that were not problematic enough, injuries to Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry have effectively denied Hodgson the chance to hone past England pairings.

By circumstance as much as choice, Scott Parker and Steven Gerrard are to be his engine room for the European Championship. Both are highly experienced players but until this year they had never played on the same team. They started against Holland in February, but Gerrard was given an attacking brief and lasted only 33 minutes. Not until last weekend, against Norway, did they line up in central midfield together – for 45 minutes.

In theory, said Hodgson, they ought to make a good partnership. "If you look at the characteristics of the two players there is no reason why they should not form a good partnership." Indeed, Parker, is tenacious, disciplined, a sharp tackler who accepts his brief is to win the ball and pass it short to someone more creative.

Gerrard's work-rate is just as high but he likes to play a more expansive game, roaming the acres, playing million-dollar passes which sometimes work, bursting effectively into shooting positions. Parker's willingness to subjugate his ego would seem to make this a more balanced partnership than Lampard-Gerrard, which never worked satisfactorily.

However, it takes time to learn a team-mates' foibles, and Parker and Gerrard do not have much time. That was one reason why Hodgson gave his two crucial but injury-prone players more than 80 minutes together.

Defensively, they made a sound pairing. Hodgson's organisational prowess is well-known and the pair worked well as they shuffled into covering positions or closed down the man on the ball.

However, they struggled to support the strikers, with Gerrard reining in his attacking instincts. It was from a forward position that Gerrard helped Welbeck mug Moussa Dembélé to win the possession that led to England's goal and he did have two shots as the first half ended, but he will need to be more adventurous. Like the team this partnership is a work in progress.

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