Anfield marvel will be perfect in the hole left by Rooney absence

Click to follow
The Independent Online

When Steven Gerrard reluctantly ran through Sven Goran Eriksson's options in the wake of Wayne Rooney's injury he omitted what may prove to be the Swede's solution - himself.

"I don't want to talk about what alternatives there are and what chances it gives to other people," Gerrard said. "Let's just keep our fingers crossed that Wayne does go to the World Cup. But if it's not to be, obviously it is an opportunity for other people to play - Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe and Darren Bent."

Given that neither Crouch, nor Bent, have scored internationally, and Defoe is something of a Michael Owen clone, it is probable that Eriksson will look for a different resolution. There is no like-for-like alternative. As Sir Bobby Robson said yesterday: "We can't replace Rooney, I don't think there's another player like him in the country... there's hardly another player like him in Europe."

But one man's injury is another's opportunity and Rooney's woe could mean joy for Michael Carrick, and the liberation of Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

Eriksson's biggest dilemma, prior to the moment Rooney lay crumpled on the Stamford Bridge turf, was how to integrate both Lampard and Gerrard into the England team. Both are best in the centre, where their energy, tackling and eye for goal can be utilised, but neither are comfortable when required to occupy a defensive role. The sight of both bombing forward during the final minutes in Chorzow, as England clung on to the lead against Poland during the qualifying campaign, ought to live long in Eriksson's memory.

Eriksson had paired them in Portugal, during the European Championships, to the astonishment of Uefa's technical study group who noted that no team in the modern era had lifted a major trophy fielding four offensive midfielders. Despite this the indications are that he was planning to repeat the experiment in Germany.

Now, though, he may reconsider because for the first time since Nicky Butt dropped out of the reckoning he has someone who can play as a sitting midfielder. Michael Carrick has had an excellent season with Tottenham and impressed when used in the holding role for England over the past year. He has only won four international caps but has played alongside most of the team at Under-21 level and with Lampard, Joe Cole and Rio Ferdinand at West Ham United.

If he fills the holding role Eriksson can ask Lampard to play at the apex of what would be a diamond formation, free of defensive responsibilities, and Gerrard to take over Rooney's mantle. He is not as imaginative or intuitive as the Manchester United player, but few players are. He does make things happen, and he scores goals. He has also played there successfully for Liverpool during the last two seasons, notably in the second half of last May's Champions' League final.

Another possibility is Cole, whose vision and playmaking skills are akin to Rooney's, whose physical strength has developed, and whose finishing has improved. But that does not solve the midfield conundrum, and it creates a hole on the left - one which Gerrard has filled with reluctance in the past.

Or Eriksson could field a conventional front two - a style which had gone out of fashion at top-level international football but may be coming back with Germany and Italy among the teams likely to field twin strikers, the latter albeit with Francesco Totti behind them. This would mean Owen, assuming he is fit, partnering either Crouch or Bent. More probable is that they would be kept in reserve on the bench.

And what happens if Gerrard proves a sensation as Rooney's understudy, England sweep into the final on the back of his goals, and then Rooney is ready to return? Does Eriksson bring him back? Obviously? Forty years ago Alf Ramsey was faced with a similar choice. He kept faith with Geoff Hurst at the expense of Jimmy Greaves, the finest goalscorer of the age, and the rest is oft-repeated history. Would Eriksson be as brave? He would love the opportunity to consider it.

Comments