Theo Walcott is an injury doubt for England's Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales at Wembley tonight, when Fabio Capello has promised changes to the side that beat Bulgaria on Friday.
Capello said yesterday that, with Wales expected to defend much deeper tonight, he may well make changes to the team that started in Sofia as well as alter the 4-2-3-1 formation to cope with the threat of Gareth Bale on England's right side. However, Walcott's hamstring problem could make the decision over who to leave out much more straightforward for the England manager, if the winger fails to come through a fitness test today.
Walcott started on the right side of the bank of three behind Wayne Rooney on Friday but if Capello is to opt for a different strategy to cope with Bale he could bring in James Milner to shore up the right side of the midfield in a 4-3-3 formation. There is also a chance that Frank Lampard, left on the bench in Bulgaria, could come back into the team.
Even without Walcott's injury, Capello said yesterday that the Arsenal man is at his best when there is space behind the opposition's defence for him to run into, rather than when he is forced to play with his back to goal against a team that compresses the midfield. In answer to a question about Walcott, Capello said: "They [his attackers] counter-attack the space and we have really good players, technically. With space, it's easier. When you arrive in front of goal running [ie, running at goal], it's easier. When you receive with your back to goal, it's really different. Really, really big difference."
Capello also questioned yesterday whether Arsenal had made the right decision in allowing Jack Wilshere to go on holiday this summer rather than bringing him back to the club for treatment on the ankle injury he picked up playing against Switzerland in June.
The matter of Wilshere's current injury – which could rule him out for up to three months – is a delicate subject for the England manager, given that the problems started in that Euro 2012 qualifier earlier this summer.
Capello said yesterday that the medical department had told him that Wilshere's injury was a repetition of one he had suffered in 2009. Capello said: "He suffered this accident [the current injury] against Switzerland [on 4 June], it's true, and afterwards he went on holiday. When he started the season, he was not fit: yes, no? Now they've found the problem."
Pushed on whether he felt Wilshere should have been allowed by Arsenal to go on holiday after the Switzerland game, Capello said: "I don't know. It's not my job to say what happened, but he suffered against Switzerland and then went on holiday for a month."
He added: "I hope he will be fit in a really short time for Arsenal and for us. Because he's a really important player for both [teams] for the future. Look, I want to explain: when I selected him [for the Switzerland game], he was fit. During the game, it can happen. It's normal. People get shoulder, knee, head injuries. If you play, it's possible. When he started the game he was fit. If he wasn't fit, he wouldn't have played. That's the big difference."
Yesterday Uefa began its investigation into the racist chanting by Bulgarian fans towards Ashley Young and Walcott during Friday's game and Capello urged both sets of supporters tonight not to boo each others' national anthems.
"I think the racism is one of the worst things in the world but another really important thing is the respect for the other fans, the other countries, during the national anthem," he said. "I remember [when England played] in Cardiff I didn't like this. Always, it's important, as a player and as a manager, that for that moment you are 'part of the country'. Really part of the country. Your shirt, your mind, your heart is for the country. It's a big respect for your opponents. One minute of respect. You need that."
Capello also repeated his warning to Andy Carroll that the Liverpool striker can expect to be involved with the England team only if he looks after himself off the pitch. Capello said: "If he wants to be a good player and a good sportsman, he needs to drink less than the others."
He added: "He is not at the top of his form. He is an important player for Liverpool and for us. He didn't play the last game with Liverpool. His style of life is a problem if it is not good because he needs to be careful. He is an important player. He understands what he needs to do."
On the subject of Carroll, John Terry said that he could not see much wrong with his young team-mate's approach to life as a professional. "He's still got to enjoy his time away from football, I'm sure he will," Terry said. "He's a really good pro on the pitch and good around the camp. I've been there and made my mistakes, maybe drunk a little bit too much when I was younger and gone out a little bit too much. But, having gone through that at 26 or 27, you maybe look back and are glad that you did it then because you don't want to do it now."
Three key confrontations where tonight's match will be won or lost
Wayne Rooney v James Collins
The England frontman has rediscovered his best form for both club and country, culminating in an imperious and intelligent two-goal performance against Bulgaria last Friday. James Collins will have to use all of his experience to prevent the Manchester United striker from having the same effect again tonight.
Chris Smalling v Gareth Bale
For the second time this season, these two bright youngsters, born four months apart, will meet. It was Smalling who came out on top when Manchester United beat Spurs 3-0 at Old Trafford, but Bale will hope to use his pace to get in behind Smalling this evening, as Martin Petrov tried to do on Friday.
Scott Parker v Aaron Ramsey
It will be Parker's job to ensure that Wales' captain is not as influential as he might be. The Arsenal midfielder is blessed with quick feet and a sharp mind, and scored against Montenegro last Friday. Spurs' new signing will do everything he can to stop him from doing so again this evening.
* Remaining fixtures
Today England v Wales, Switzerland v Bulgaria.
7 October Montenegro v England, Wales v Switzerland.
11 October Bulgaria v Wales, Switzerland v Montenegro.