Saturday, August 16, 2008

England Squad Announced for Czech Republic Friendly

Fabio Capello has named his 23-man roster for England's friendly against the Czech Republic on Wednesday, and there were a couple of surprise absentees, one of which really bothers me.

I can't emphasize enough just how highly I rate Aston Villa's Ashley Young, who had a breakout season last year and was rewarded with a place in the PFA Team of the Year for his efforts. He's right-footed but plays on the left wing and has a good enough left foot, which he showed midweek on the terrific goal he scored in Villa's 4-1 victory over FH in the UEFA Cup Second Qualifying Round. England has a huge void on the left flank: Stewart Downing isn't good enough, Joe Cole doesn't bring much pace to the position, and there really aren't many options behind those two and Young.

Young was snubbed by Capello -- that's the only way I can put it. He should've been in the squad and should've started in the game. It's that simple. You cannot and never will convince me that Downing is a better player than Young. Cole should be on the field, but not at that position. If anyone watched Aston Villa last season, they'd know just how good of a player this guy is. His peers recognize his talent, hence the spot on that PFA team.

The other notable exclusion was that of Darren Bent, who lit it up in the pre-season for Tottenham with, I believe, 12 goals in 5 or 6 games. I understand that pre-season doesn't mean much but they're games. What else is Capello supposed to go on? The main issue with Steve McLaren was that he seemed to pick his team on reputation and name value rather than form, and Capello didn't do that when he took over. It's almost impossible to be playing better right now than Bent.

My surprise here is coupled with the fact that Capello selected Wayne Rooney as one of his three strikers. Rooney has been out for a couple weeks with a virus he contracted on Manchester United's pre-season tour of Africa. He definitely has the talent to be on this team, but he hasn't played in a while and is only just now near complete recovery. He has a tendency to drop back into midfield, where England is already loaded, to pick up the ball instead of staying up front to receive it. This is fine, and I wouldn't have as much of a problem with it as I do, but Capello also picked Jermain Defoe, who is another quick, slight striker, and only one center forward, Emile Heskey, whose best days are clearly behind him.

There's no way that Bent shouldn't be in this group based on his attributes and his current form. If you're going to play Rooney, it's like adding another midfielder with the way he plays for England, and if you're going to play Defoe, he's going to be alongside an unfamiliar face in Heskey. Bent and Defoe were teammates at Tottenham last season before the latter moved to Portsmouth in January, so they should have some chemistry. Defoe has been training with Peter Crouch, a perfect contrasting partnership, all summer, and Crouch also wasn't named to the England team.

West Ham's Dean Ashton certainly would've made the team after his two-goal performance today against Wigan as he's a solid center forward, but he's been ruled out with an injury problem, something that has plagued his career.

Here's the full squad, followed immediately by a couple additional thoughts on the team and my personal starting lineup based on the options available, not necessarily who Capello will use:

GK (3): David James (Portsmouth), Joe Hart (Manchester City), Paul Robinson (Blackburn)

DEF (8): Wayne Bridge, Ashley Cole, and John Terry (Chelsea), Wes Brown and Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United), Glen Johnson (Portsmouth), Jonathan Woodgate (Tottenham), Matthew Upson (West Ham)

MID (9): Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Gareth Barry (Aston Villa), Joe Cole and Frank Lampard (Chelsea), David Beckham (Los Angeles Galaxy), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough), David Bentley and Jermaine Jenas (Tottenham)

ST (3): Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Jermain Defoe (Portsmouth), Emile Heskey (Wigan)

• Eight defenders and nine midfielders, but only three strikers? Interesting, considering Rooney has been sick lately.

• I have no idea how Wayne Bridge, who can’t even get a game at Chelsea and certainly doesn’t start on a regular basis, is the second left back ahead of guys like Nicky Shorey, Stephen Warnock, or even Joleon Lescott, a natural center back capable of playing on the left. Those three are all starters, play a lot, and are good players. Bridge doesn't fit into either of the first two categories, so how can be on the team?

GK: James

RB: Johnson
CB: Ferdinand
CB: Terry
LB: A. Cole

RMF: Beckham
DMF: Barry
CMF: Gerrard (captain)
LMF: J. Cole

SS: Rooney

ST: Heskey

Update (08/17-4:28 PM): An ankle injury suffered by Carrick in today’s Manchester United-Newcastle game has ruled the midfielder out of this upcoming friendly. Capello replaced Carrick with Jermaine Jenas. My original starting lineup included Carrick but has now been adjusted and based on Gareth Barry’s current form, he gets the nod.

"I'm on Setanta Sports" Is Back!

The Special One is back and better than ever this season. It would be difficult for an ordinary man to manage Inter Milan and host a hit TV show at the same time, but Senore Mourinho is no ordinary man. He is fantastic.

In this episode, José chats with his co-host, Sven-Göran Eriksson, aka "It", about managing Mexico and how the cultures in Mexico and England are different. The show's other co-host, Wayne Rooney, may have picked up a virus on Manchester United's preseason tour of Africa but he's healthy enough to make his usual appearance on the show. Don't worry, it's not malaria.