The day before England’s friendly with Germany, and as far as most are concerned the spate of withdrawals has placed the fixture firmly under the folder marked “Farce”. Of the first choice XI the central core of Rio, Gerrard, Lampard, Heskey and Rooney are missing, as well as likely supporting acts such as the Coles and Brown. A shame, as it was to Fabio’s credit that he had planned minimal changes from the team that played in qualifiers. The strategy of maintaining the bulk of the team, and drafting in two or three new players alongside the regulars was one of which I was strongly in favour. It seemed to me that the newbies would have a better platform to impress and showcase their abilities if surrounded by seasoned pros. Unfortunately it’s all pretty academic now – injuries have forced wholesale changes, with James, Terry, Barry and Walcott the only regular starters.
Pretty meaningless then, to many (I don’t quite believe the “There’s no such thing as a friendly with Germany” line being trotted out by squad players and broadcasters). However, for the fringe players this, naturally, is a huge game, a chance to stake claims for regular inclusions in the squad if the not the starting line-up. With Spurs’ Darren Bent the leading English scorer in the country at the moment there is a strong chance that he’ll be given a start, alongside one of Crouch, Defoe or Agbonlahor. I would be particularly interested to see how he fares with a second striker to partner, given that he is primarily deployed in the frustrating 4-5-1 at Spurs. While the 4-5-1 accommodates Modric, it often leaves Bent chasing shadows in attack, always outnumbered and typically having to do a lot of chasing away from goal. With his pace, strength, ability in the air and shooting ability he ought to be a very impressive all-round striker – a poor man’s Shearer. However, as the lone striker he is regularly forced to hold up the ball, or chase balls down the flanks.
Shearer looked best alongside a partner (Sutton, or Sheringham) but such a luxury is rarely afforded to Bent. Conventional wisdom has it that similar strikers can’t play together, and as such one ought to play a more withdrawn role, to feed the other (think Sheringham and Shearer again, or Beardsley and Lineker, Heskey and Owen/Rooney etc). Yet with the possible exception of Crouch, none of the forwards in the England squad is particularly inclined to play the withdrawn role. Should Bent start alongside Defoe or Agbonlahor it would give an opportunity to see how two fairly similar strikers pair up, and how Bent copes as one of a front-two. As such, it will provide an excellent opportunity for Spurs to gauge the effectiveness of such a strategy. ‘Arry deviated from his norm and attempted a 4-4-2 vs Liverpool in the Carling Cup last week, with great success, although with Campbell and Pavluychenko together in attack. It therefore remains to be seen whether Bent is fitted for this purpose, and ‘Arry seems reluctant to experiment with a front-two in a competitive game for Spurs (understandably enough, given our lightweight midfield). Fabio therefore looks set to do Spurs something of a favour in Germany tomorrow night. As one who is far from enthralled by 4-5-1, I hope that Bent flourishes with a partner alongside him.
Squad: James, Robinson, Carson; Bridge, Davies, Lescott, Richards, Johnson, Terry, Mancienne, Upson; Barry, Carrick, Downing, Bullard, Wright-Phillips, A Young, Parker; Walcott, Crouch, Bent, Defoe, Agbonlahor.