Memo to Sven: Lampard a must starter at Euro 2004

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The Independent Football

It was a night when a humble water-carrier produced flowing wine. Yet what should not be forgotten, as the plaudits are rightly bestowed upon the Monaco coach, Didier Deschamps, is how his soon-to-be departed counterpart, Claudio Ranieri, has turned raw material into precious stone.

There it was gleaming in the detritus of Chelsea's Champions' League elimination in the shape of Frank Lampard, one of six potential England Euro 2004 squad members who will have been viewed by the watching England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, with varying degrees of satisfaction.

After the Chelsea players had departed the Stamford Bridge pitch, attempting unsuccessfully to contain tears and unable to deny themselves the opportunity for self-reproach, it was impossible not to reflect on the impression made by Lampard - and contemplate on just what effect he could have on the forthcoming championships finals.

This observer was not the only one to contend that Lampard's England pretensions were overstated back in 2000 when, as a West Ham player, he made his international debut against Belgium. Though always looking classy, the midfielder could be rather predictable in his distribution, certainly at the highest level. But, to use an analogy that would probably be favoured by his Turf-loving uncle, Harry Redknapp, the promising colt has developed to such a degree that he now strides out with the elegance and confidence of a Classic thoroughbred.

Ranieri has maintained faith in his charge. With a total of 57 appearances including yesterday (and that is ignoring his England caps) he has been virtually ever-present in the second half of the campaign. Along with Chelsea's captain, John Terry, he has been one of the constants in what has become Ranieri's season of short straws for many of the Italian's 30-strong group.

A total of 15 goals, including Chelsea's exquisitely executed second on Wednesday night, is evidence of a man at the zenith of his form. That, allied to his willingness to track back and defend and a durability which suggests that he could play right through the summer and into next season if required, should surely commend itself to Eriksson as he plans for a certain international in five weeks' time.

The dilemma is: just how does he incorporate both the attack-minded Lampard and Paul Scholes into the same midfield line-up to face Zinedine Zidane and Co at Lisbon's Estadio da Luz? There is an argument to be made for loosening the Manchester United stranglehold - David Beckham, Scholes and Nick Butt - in that area. The captain, currently considering his future at Real Madrid, claims his place by sheer force of personality, but Scholes's dearth of international goals and Butt's failure to feature regularly in United's starting line-up will be privately troubling Eriksson. If you cannot persuade your club manager that you are worthy of a place, should you expect to be capped by England?

In contrast, Lampard is one of his manager's first two names on the teamsheet (the other is Terry, of course), has developed a prolific scoring habit for a midfielder, and is in imperious form.

In his latest interview, Eriksson emphasised that it will be no certainty that the quartet of Beckham, Butt, Scholes and Liverpool's Steven Gerrard will start against France. With doubts also being expressed about Michael Owen's appearance, once regarded as obligatory, it could be that the Swede surprises us all when he announces his team to play the European champions.

Last week, former England centre-back Tony Adams even suggested that Owen should be dropped for that specific game, one in which England will desire to avoid defeat at all costs, with Wayne Rooney deployed alone ahead of a five-man midfield. It is a radical departure from Eriksson's usual strategy, particularly as Adams would utilise Joe Cole in England's black hole (where even the best have been known to disappear), the left side of midfield.

For much of his first half against Monaco, one would have largely concurred with the promotion of Cole, if we forgive him for spurning one inviting opportunity on the volley. There was much to appreciate about his performance on the left flank, which is not his natural habitat, particularly when he furnished a glorious opening for Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, from which the Dutchman failed to profit.

Still, he remains an enigma; at times belying his 22 years with outstandingly creative vision, at others mystifyingly erratic. Like Lampard himself, it may require further experience among Europe's élite to acquire the veneer that England require. That said, it would be feasible for Eriksson to harness all England's quality midfielders, in a line-up in which both Lampard and Scholes featured. In such a formation, Gerrard would be asked to perform the holding role, a responsibility which would definitely appeal to him as the ultimate challenge, in that it would require him to negate the wiles of Zidane, the player the Anfield man admires most in world football. Ahead of him in the diamond, Beckham and Lampard would operate, with Scholes dropped just behind Rooney and Owen.

Eriksson has already given a clue that the diamond will be his intended formation against France. "If you give [Thierry] Henry and [Robert] Pires space, then you're in big, big trouble," he says. "So you have to play tight to them and all the team must be very compact."

The conundrum for him is: can he truly accommodate both the Chelsea and Manchester United attacking mid-fielders? If he does not, then the response of the England coach should surely be to give priority in his thinking to the Chelsea man who has sparkled so brightly in recent weeks.

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