Saturday - Wednesday: Four days within the realm of distinction
Robinson, James, Carson; Richards, Ferdinand, A Cole, P Neville, Brown, Terry, Lescott, Shorey; Bentley, Lampard, Wright-Phillips, Barry, Hargreaves, Gerrard, J Cole, Carrick, Downing; Smith, Crouch, Defoe, Heskey, Owen, Johnson, Young
From this current squad of England players Steve McLaren has to pick eleven players to start at Wembley against Israel in order to compete for and gain three points towards Euro2008 qualification. Being honest, we should win today, regardless of who starts for England from the squad. I know little of Israel's players other than those based in England and a few from abroad, but from what I know of our players week in week out, we should win. I don't want to hear from anyone telling me I am disrespecting Israel, we are good enough to beat them and Russia on Wednesday.
Steven Gerrard was a doubt. Then Frank Lampard pulled out with a thigh problem and misses today's match and potentially Wednesday's match too. Owen Hargreaves had a reaction in his thigh in training and is still touch-and-go if he starts today. Gerrard is said to have passed through training well with and without injections into his broken toe area and is likely to start. The biggest amazement is not only Emile Heskey's selection but the likelihood he will start today alongside Michael Owen. Well, to most it is amazing, but not me. I have found Heskey has been putting himself about well for Wigan overall and I still admire his contribution as Wigan skipper on the last day of last season at Bramall Lane, where Wigan were expected to give way to a Neil Warnock proud Sheffield United equally fighting for Premiership survival. Heskey wasn't the only hero in that match for Wigan but he was practically the biggest one.
The other options upfront are Alan Smith, Peter Crouch, Jermaine Defoe and Andy Johnson. Smith is played in midfield and though he added a couple of touches on for Owen against Germany, he was not influential enough. Crouch is suspended for today's match and could come in against the Russians, he has good touch and looks an obvious target for aerial balls, not the derogative 'long-ball' tactic allegedly attributed to England by Israel's midfielder Idan Tal or anyone else.
Defoe and Johnson are similar in style to Owen and with Crouch suspended, Heskey is the best option as a link-up man for Owen to feed from. Heskey has strength, pace and tenacity and if he can be encouraged into pressing into the Israeli defence I believe he can cause the kind of problems that can unravel the back four and allow for a breach.
Additionally to breaching the defence from close quarters, we should also encourage a shoot-on-sight policy. If you are in a good position with time, shoot. Don't always try to pass around and through the defence, take shots now and then. We saw how Germany came back at us at Wembley and Christian Pander coming forward with his left foot shot, we have players who can shoot just as good and we should use that utility.
There is no excuse, McLaren said. No, there is little room for an excuse. We have not been performing within 70% of our capabilities and I wonder how much is that down to McLaren and/or the players. I think any player he starts with from the squad can win games, I lay the blame on the players, they are the ones who perform. Captain John Terry said we should be patient and not be disgruntled if England do not score within the first 10/15/25 mins. On the contrary, if we mean business today as if we REALLY want to win this game, and that against Russia, and REALLY show off our true credentials, we should be scoring our first within the first 10mins and another within 15mins after in today's game.