Lee Dixon: All eyes will be on Rooney, but Lampard is the key man who must take his chances - News & Comment - Football - The Independent

Lee Dixon: All eyes will be on Rooney, but Lampard is the key man who must take his chances

World Cup Dossier

England outscored all other European sides in qualifying, with 34 goals in 10 games (that's six more than Spain). Now, we've waited three hours since last finding the net. And so the talk, unsurprisingly, focuses on Rooney and who, if anyone, should partner him up front. But Capello should know that another strength is crucial today in Port Elizabeth.

England still have two of the best attacking midfielders in the game – but we are still not getting the best out of them. The key for England is to give Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard the opportunity and freedom to do what they do for their clubs, and what they did for England in qualifying for the finals. And tonight, it is Lampard who needs to rediscover his old self as a goalscoring force.

Arsène Wenger, my old manager, was on the right lines yesterday when he said that England need to play with more freedom – and the crucial spark can come from the midfield. We need something from Lampard. He was quiet against the US and nonexistent against Algeria. He looks a shadow of himself.

England scored plenty of goals in qualifying and actually created a number of chances against the US, which makes the performance against Algeria all the more baffling. The way Slovenia play, and certainly how they played against the US, you would expect chances to come and it is the midfielders who can prove the difference.

In their last match Slovenia were poor at the back, especially in dealing with midfield runners. For the second US goal they failed to pick up Mike Bradley's run from deep, and that is an area England must look to exploit. In Lampard they have the player to do so. The Slovenian centre-backs and full-backs have a tendency to drift apart, especially on the left-hand side where Boštjan Cesar and Bojan Jokic were caught by Bradley's movement. They were slack for the first goal, too, with the full-backs slow to cover a mistake in the middle. The late runs into the box that have proved so productive for Lampard at Chelsea are just what England need here.

Aaron Lennon has had a couple of goes now and I would make a change on the right. Shaun Wright-Phillips or James Milner both have a case to start, but if Milner is fully fit – unlike for the first game against the US – he is the best option. Lennon got himself into plenty of good positions against the US but failed to deliver, while against Algeria he was as anonymous as most of his team-mates.

Milner may not have Lennon's pace but he is better with the ball and also better when England do not have the ball. The way I want England to play, Milner's reassuring presence would also help free up Gerrard. England have to do whatever it takes to get the ball to the captain in more dangerous areas. I still want to see Gerrard pushed up to play off Wayne Rooney. The balance of the side was all wrong in the last match. The Algerians pushed up on Ashley Cole to stop him getting forward, and with Gerrard drifting inside it left a hole on the left. As the game wore on, frustration grew, and Wayne Rooney kept chasing back to fill it.

Playing Rooney on his own would, for one thing, force him to stay there rather than drop deep. He has been worryingly off colour in South Africa. Against Algeria he look laboured and tired and ended up wasting energy in areas that do not suit either him or England. He reminds me of Ian Wright in that it is all about goals. When Wright was scoring all was right with the world, but if he wasn't it affected all parts of his game as well as his mood.

If Capello insists on playing two up front, as is his style, it should be Peter Crouch rather than Jermain Defoe. Rooney and Defoe have not had a profitable partnership in the past and Crouch would be an awkward opponent for a Slovenian defence that is less than convincing.

But Slovenia are by no means a bad side and are capable of holding their own. So now it all comes down to strength of mind. John Terry says we will get it right, but if it was that easy we would have beaten Algeria. If we play anything like as well as we can, we will beat Slovenia – but then after the way England played against Algeria I truly have no idea what to expect.

Terry's one-man 'coup' was as damaging as it gets

England have broken a crucial rule: whatever happens in camp should stay within the camp. I don't think we've seen everything that's gone on. John Terry coming out and saying what he did, Frank Lampard coming out the next day and saying the opposite, then the manager slapping Terry down in public – it doesn't make sense.

If any player has a problem with the manager, there is nothing to stop them sorting it out in private – there is absolutely no need to say anything in public. When I was part of Graham Taylor's England squad trying to qualify for United States '94, things leaked into the media and this mood of doom and gloom spread across the squad, the media, the fans – it has an effect.

The press are hugely influential and that's why things have to be kept within the camp – it is important that the entire squad sticks together. I have never seen anything like this though, where one player says something, the next day another contradicts him and then the first one apologises through a newspaper. There is clearly some sort of power struggle going on. It can happen in a club over the course of season but it should never happen in the space of a tournament like the World Cup.

It is so important to keep everyone together at this level. Yesterday, I watched France, in disarray, get smashed by South Africa and that is what can happen. That should be a warning. It really is time for England to battle for each other, not against each other.

Five a sides

1 There is no excuse for Anelka's behaviour

Whatever happens off the field or how aggrieved you may feel with the manager and coaching staff, players have a responsibility to the national shirt which makes the actions of Nicolas Anelka – and the rest of the French squad for that matter – inexcusable. You just cannot go and slag off your manager like that, let alone refuse to train. Things may be difficult in the French camp but it is no good going off in a sulk. I still can't quite believe what has happened to them. They were absolutely dreadful again yesterday and got what they deserved against South Africa.

2 Brazil have looked the best all-rounders

Brazil have been the best side so far. They were impressive against Ivory Coast and have an all-round strength – tight at the back, solid in midfield with creative ability too and a goal threat up front now that Fabiano is scoring again– that makes them the team to beat, although Spain have also shown the expected signs of improvement. There is no reason to look elsewhere for the winners at the moment.

3 Hodgson is staying tight-lipped on his job prospects

Roy Hodgson has joined us in the BBC camp in Cape Town. I've asked him several times if he has any plans for a job swap... he refuses to give us any clues whatsoever.

4 Global talent spotting

One of the fascinating things about the World Cup is getting a look at players you rarely see. Alexis Sanchez, the Chile striker, caught my eye again against the Swiss this week. He played well in their opener against Honduras and it will be interesting to see how he gets on against Spain on Friday.

5 Time to get on my bike and clear my head

I have hired a bike here in Cape Town so I can get some exercise in between sitting in front of the football all day. This morning the plan is to ride out on the Chapman's Peak drive outside the city. My guide has promised some spectacular views, but that is not the real reason I'm getting on my bike. Hopefully the exercise can clear my head before we all sit down to watch England.

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