Walker and Johnson give Capello some relief from his big headache
Strong defensive show at Anfield suggests England could have fresh faces at the back for Euro 2012
Tuesday 07 February 2012
If Sunday's game reminded Fabio Capello of the crisis of his defensive options, last night's goalless draw between resilient Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur sides will have painted a better picture.
At Stamford Bridge on Sunday afternoon Capello watched as a defence built around Rio Ferdinand was shredded by Chelsea for an hour. He will have been appalled as Ferdinand, whose absence from the last World Cup was so costly for England, gifted David Luiz two yards of space for Chelsea's third goal. Capello would not have been much more impressed when a back four including Gary Cahill allowed United back into the game, with Ashley Cole suspended.
To say nothing of everything surrounding John Terry, or the frustrating injuries to United youngsters Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, both of whom played at right-back during the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign.
But last night was different. There were five excellent performances by English defenders: three right-backs and both of Spurs' centre-backs. After an evening of canny, cautious football, in which neither side looked like scoring the goal, Capello will have left with less of a sense of dread regarding his defensive options.
Foremost was the battle between his two favourite right-backs. Kyle Walker faced Glen Johnson, who had been switched to the left-wing, with Martin Kelly playing in Johnson's usual position. It was a thrilling duel, as they moved back and forth like fencers, one bursting forward to win a corner from the other, before conceding the same. Walker also had to cope with Craig Bellamy, keeping up with, and when necessary catching up with him, in a way that not many English defenders can manage. The one advantage Johnson has over Walker is experience: Walker has only two caps for England, and has never played in the Champions League. But last night he looked assured enough to face France in Donetsk in June.
Johnson must receive additional praise for matching Walker while playing on his unnatural side. Particularly so, given the lack of an understudy to Ashley Cole. Capello took Stephen Warnock to South Africa two years ago, although Warnock has yet to make it clear that he has the required class for international football. Leighton Baines, who does, suffered from doubts over his resilience. Johnson did once get past Walker and crossed sharply with his left foot, but it was repelled by Michael Dawson.
The sight of Dawson's imperious display may have been just as pleasing as that of Ledley King alongside him. Capello must have doubts about taking King after his injury in South Africa, but a run of games for Dawson could move him into contention.
In the opening minutes Dawson perfectly timed a slide-tackle on the on-rushing Andy Carroll, legally stealing the ball when an error of centimetres might have cost Spurs the game. Dawson matched Carroll in the air and on the ground for most of the evening, showing the proprietorial dominance of the near post and the penalty box that has made John Terry so indispensable to England. Late blocks from Charlie Adam and Luis Suarez also smacked of Terry, as did a clever and semi-legal push on Carroll in the box.
Ashley Cole aside, none of England's starting back four in the European Championship is obvious. Fabio Capello is accumulating problems, and has been for a while, but after such a set of very plausible auditions he will have left Anfield with a slightly more enjoyable headache last night.
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