The withdrawal of players from the England squad to face Germany has been well documented, with some nine regular starters now missing. While the likes of Young and Agbonlahor, Mancienne and Richards will be desperate to put in a performance that cements their positions in the squad, I’ll be focusing on two of those who are already well-established, within the squad if not quite within the starting XI. In the absence of both Gerrard and Lampard, the central midfield partnership is likely to be Carrick and Barry. Barry has, recently, tended to start more often than not; while Carrick is, it’s fair to say, fourth in the queue behind Messrs Gerrard, Lampard and Barry for the central midfield berth.
Gerrard and Lampard are notoriously similar types, both happiest when casting aside their responsibilities and bombing forward. Given their similarity, the problem of pairing them effectively seems to have been one of the great conundrums of the 21st century. A train of thought that has been gathering momentum has been to play just one of them, alongside the more sedate Barry. In Gerrard’s absence, Lampard and Barry performed admirably in the 4-1 away win against Croatia, our finest victory in years. I personally would prefer this combo, of one of Gerrard or Lampard, paired with Barry, while the other of Gerrard or Lampard sits on the bench, to provide a highly potent weapon as substitute. Successive England managers have begged to differ, and Fabio’s solution remains unknown, given that, in the crunch, competitive games, injury has deprived him of the pair of them together.
The notion of one playing and one on the bench gives the squad the appearance of depth. Few would doubt that a central midfield needs at least one attack-minded, creative type, someone who can spot offensive passes and time his runs into the area to support the forwards. However, I worry that with both Gerrard and Lampard unavailable, England’s cupboard begins to look bare, in this respect. Barry and Carrick are both players I admire, but for similar reasons – ie the positional discipline they bring, as foils for attacking players, and the range and control of their passing, priceless in ball retention at international level. However, just as neither of Gerrard and Lampard seems to have the ability, let alone the inclination, to sit back and hold fort as half of a central midfield pairing, so neither of Barry and Carrick seem to have the natural ability to burst forward and create as half of a central midfield pairing. In a top-level international game (as opposed to a qualifier at Wembley vs Absurdistan) the entire team will look to the central midfield pair to pull the strings and create. Pace on the wings, and vision in the hole are obviously integral, but if the midfield offers nothing then the other attackers will not receive the necessary service.
Which brings me back to tonight. What are our options, if both Gerrard and Lampard are missing? It will be exciting to see Young and SWP on the wings, and the pace of Agbonlahor upfront – but central midfield? Fabio looks set to go with Carrick and Barry – and frankly I’ll buy a hat and eat it if these two together pin back the Germans. I don’t see a natural conduit between midfield and attack with this pair in the centre, I see a great yawning chasm. On the bench we have Parker and Bullard, left back at home we have Jenas. In theory I guess Joe Cole could fill the “creative central midfielder” role, but I’m not sure anyone in England genuinely considers the former three to be international quality. I would be delighted to be proved wrong tonight, but beyond Gerrard and Lampard, England’s central midfield cupboard looks to me to be a little bare.