Gerrard jumps to defence of Eriksson's experiment

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The Independent Football

Steven Gerrard delivered a robust defence of Sven Goran Eriksson and his final preparations for the World Cup yesterday when he heralded the experimental formation against Hungary as evidence that England can succeed without Wayne Rooney in Germany.

England's penultimate game before their World Cup campaign commences on 10 June generated as many dilemmas as solutions for Eriksson on Tuesday, with the Swede abandoning his plan to deploy Jamie Carragher as a holding midfielder after a poor first-half performance but not, ironically, from the Liverpool centre-half who replaced the injured right-back Gary Neville at the interval.

Gerrard added to the uncertainty surrounding Eriksson's tactical approach with a contribution that mirrored that of the England team, improving immeasurably after his 47th-minute header had opened the scoring but also when he began to influence proceedings by adopting a deeper position in the second half.

The Liverpool captain, however, believes the decision to employ him behind lone striker Michael Owen was vindicated by the ultimate victory at Old Trafford and, that with Saturday's friendly against Jamaica and more than a week of training remaining before the opening World Cup game against Paraguay, England have ample time to make the 4-1-3-1-1 system work before they set foot in the Waldstadion in Frankfurt the following Saturday.

"People might have seen the system as Plan C but it worked against Hungary," Gerrard said. "We proved against Hungary that we have a strong squad as, despite having a couple of injuries, we adapted very well. They played quite deep and it was hard to get on the ball at times but we had to be patient and wait for the breakthrough.

"We were unlucky not to have the game sewn up by half-time. Their No 6 [Balazs Molnar] was shackling me and following me everywhere, so at half-time the manager said that, if he continues to do so, try to come deeper to get on the ball. I knew he wouldn't have the energy levels to do it for 90 minutes, so I knew I'd get on the ball eventually and that is what happened."

Gerrard's plea for patience with the new formation may go unheeded by Eriksson himself if Peter Crouch is recalled alongside Michael Owen on Saturday following his goalscoring performance against Hungary, although the Liverpool midfielder is convinced he can provide a viable alternative to an England team lacking the ingenuity of Rooney.

He added: "I have played in four or five different positions for Liverpool this season and I'm quite comfortable when I have to adapt. I enjoyed the role against Hungary and I enjoy getting into the box and scoring goals. I scored 23 for Liverpool last season and I think I proved against Hungary that I can do a job in there.

"I'm never going to be able to match Wayne Rooney in that position, but if he's not going to be fit for the first couple of games then I'm prepared to give it my best in that role."

Gerrard's confidence in Eriksson's system was shared by the England captain, David Beckham, who ­ along with revealing yesterday that Rooney was buoyant about playing in Germany despite the decision to bring forward the date of a scan on his broken metatarsal ­ insisted that Eriksson and his assistant, Steve McClaren, were correct to experiment so close to a World Cup campaign.

Beckham said: "What the manager and Steve are doing is giving us options. You have to see if those options work when you play friendly games. We did that against Hungary and it's never too late to try things out. It was an encouraging performance. Jamie Carragher proved he can play as a holding midfielder, and you need to have different options at a World Cup."

Carragher said he was disappointed by Eriksson's decision to grant him only 45 minutes to adjust and impress in an unaccustomed role at Old Trafford, but believes the system will succeed at the World Cup provided it is allowed the time he was denied.

"I was surprised when the manager asked if I fancied playing in that position, but I was just happy to have been asked to play at all," the Liverpool defender said. "I certainly had enough time to get my head around it and I was disappointed that I didn't get a full 90 minutes in there, but you have to look after your top players and Gary Neville is one of those top players.

"We have a lot of attack-minded players in midfield and then we have Stevie playing further up. We also have two full-backs who like to attack so I think the system can work."