New faces, but not too many just yet

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Peter Taylor has been portrayed as a footballing Fagin, determined to infiltrate the England team with his former Under-21 urchins, ready to pick-pocket caps from their seniors in Turin. However, while there may be anything up to four new boys called up into the squad, including possibly the 19-year-old Ipswich centre-back Titus Bramble, the caretaker England coach and his assistant Steve McClaren are unlikely to make too many radical changeswhen they reveal their choice on Thursday, the result of a phone conversation between them late last week.

Peter Taylor has been portrayed as a footballing Fagin, determined to infiltrate the England team with his former Under-21 urchins, ready to pick-pocket caps from their seniors in Turin. However, while there may be anything up to four new boys called up into the squad, including possibly the 19-year-old Ipswich centre-back Titus Bramble, the caretaker England coach and his assistant Steve McClaren are unlikely to make too many radical changeswhen they reveal their choice on Thursday, the result of a phone conversation between them late last week.

Although the game on Wednesday week is a friendly and the pair want to make an impact on the one occasion they have, the fact that the opponents are Italy should dictate a degree of caution.

The coaching duo's options are restricted anyway by the enforced absence of Leeds' Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate who would be certainties following superlative performances this season. The FA have decidedthe pair's international suspension should stand because the duration of their impending court case will make it unlikely they will be available for England's games in February and March. However, accepting that the Italy friendly gives more than normal scope for experimentation, that seems a spurious argument.

Another pair of club team-mates who appear unlikely to register on the team-sheet are West Ham's Joe Cole and Michael Carrick. Carrick is 19, but Cole does not even turn that age until Wednesday and while Taylor believes both epitomise the excellence of England's future, he is not convinced they are ready to step up to full England level.

Even Manchester United's youngsters had to do their time before being considered for active England duty. Given the regular employment of Taylor's No 2, anything up to eight of the Old Trafford fraternity will be prominent among the 25, including Wes Brown, who has emerged from serious injury to impress others besides Sir Alex Ferguson.

Howard Wilkinson, the coaching stand-in for England's last game, in Finland, brought him on for the last 20 minutes. This time, though, there must a be a strong expectation that Brown will start.

It is to be hoped that, unlike his predecessor, Taylor won't overlook Teddy Sheringham. Though the former Tottenham man, now well into his thirties, was spurned by the last regime, even Kevin Keegan cannot have failed to appreciate both his scoring form and his intelligent movement. However, it remains to be seen whether Taylor maintains Sheringham's United pairing with Andy Cole or details him to play off the in-form Emile Heskey. With Michael Owen unlikely to be match-fit, and Robbie Fowler still not having regained his optimum form (despite Wednesday's goal against Chelsea), Sunderland's Kevin Phillips is due another opportunity. Leeds' Alan Smith, who has only just turned 20, should also make the squad.

The formation deployed by Taylor and McClaren will probably depend on the players available and their expectations of the opposition, rather than dogma. Though Taylor has persevered with Martin O'Neill's 3-5-2 strategy at Filbert Street and first entered the England regime under Glenn Hoddle, who was an advocate of the system, he has a broad mind on such issues. If he does play four in midfield, there is every likelihood that David Beckham will move into the centre, with Kieron Dyer, whom Taylor greatly admires but who has tended to underachieve for England, on the right.

Other younger players whom Taylor may be tempted to bring in, at least to the squad, include Chelsea's Jody Morris and Aston Villa's Lee Hendrie, who despite 15 captivating minutes against the Czech Republic last year when called up for his first and only England cap, suffered a decline in form. He has, however, certainly impressed his club manager John Gregory this season.

Two other West Ham players may be named. Taylor is known to be an admirer of Frank Lampard, but questions remain about Rio Ferdinand. Although he has been regarded universally as "a probable England regular for years to come" since his early days at Upton Park, he has proved to be something of an enigma and has failed to maintain his progress in recent months.

Taylor's most vexing problem concerns his goalkeeper. Though David Seaman's continued right to the England role is questionable, there is no strong candidate as his successor unless Taylor's own Tim Flowers is recalled. Nigel Martyn is the most obvious, butis injured. Ipswich's Richard Wright will be included and another who will surely come into contention soon is Leeds' 21-year-old, Paul Robinson.

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