England strategy places Scholes above Lampard

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The Independent Football

Frank Lampard, the best English player of the season, will start the European Championship finals on the bench. Lampard, who was runner-up to Thierry Henry as Footballer of the Year in both the football writers' and players' polls, has been squeezed out by Sven Goran Eriksson's desire to avoid defeat in the opening match against France, and his faith in Paul Scholes. Only injury or a dramatic shift in form will change this scenario.

Frank Lampard, the best English player of the season, will start the European Championship finals on the bench. Lampard, who was runner-up to Thierry Henry as Footballer of the Year in both the football writers' and players' polls, has been squeezed out by Sven Goran Eriksson's desire to avoid defeat in the opening match against France, and his faith in Paul Scholes. Only injury or a dramatic shift in form will change this scenario.

Scholes's position at the apex of the midfield diamond is the one best suited to Lampard's game in England's framework but Eriksson believes the Manchester United player, who last scored for England in June 2001, is indispensable. With David Beckham and Steven Gerrard confirmed in the flank positions, Lampard had hoped instead to fill the holding role earmarked for Nicky Butt.

Butt has been an irregular starter for Manchester United this season but, yesterday, Eriksson said he believed he would be sufficiently match-sharp by the time the championships began. "I have spoken to Nicky Butt," Eriksson said. "He has not played much this season and it is important he is fit. I think three weeks and two friendlies will be enough to ensure he is, especially as he is not recovering from an injury. He has been working very hard."

The Swede added: "He is an important player to me even if he has not been playing. In the World Cup he came into the team after an injury and stayed in. Every time he has played the holding role for us he has done it well."

Lampard carries a goal threat but Butt is a more disciplined player and, Eriksson hinted, that would be decisive when he selected his team for England's opening match, against France on 13 June.

"I always want to win matches but it is more important not to lose the first match in a tournament than to win it," he said. "If you lose the first match then you play the next two with a knife against your throat."

Should England lose to France, Lampard can expect to come into the side as they may need to win their subsequent group matches. The Chelsea midfielder may also come into the team if they reach the knock-out stages or if any of the starting quartet is injured.

"Lampard is knocking very hard on the door," Eriksson said. "He has had a fantastic season. He is a clever player and I think he can play anywhere in midfield, including the holding role, but having him in the team instead of Butt does change its style."

The rest of the starting XI appears to be cast in stone. David James, who has started the last 13 internationals, will be in goal. Gary Neville and Ashley Cole will be the full-backs with Sol Campbell - playing his fifth successive tournament - and John Terry at centre-half. Since this quartet has only played together twice, against Macedonia (2-1) and Turkey (0-0), the return of Steve McClaren, an excellent defensive organiser, to the coaching staff could be significant.

In attack, Wayne Rooney will partner Michael Owen. Eriksson intends to field this preferred starting XI in both the warm-up matches, against Japan and Iceland, in Manchester next month.

Rooney, still only 18, is likely to be the youngest starter in the tournament. He has had an indifferent season at club level, but Eriksson said: "He is ready mentally and physically for a big tournament."

Owen was five weeks younger when he burst on to the international stage against Argentina at the World Cup in 1998. Eriksson will hope Rooney makes a similar impact but recognises that the understated play of Butt could prove just as valuable.

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