Steve McClaren’s first competitive match against one of the three real remaining “minnows” in European football (the others being the Faroe Islands and Liechenstein) will be revealing in terms of how far he’s prepared to depart from his predecessor. Expectations and necessity are high and serious respectively: McClaren has to bring about a thrashing of the visitors to keep the wolf from the door.
(What a terrible paragraph. You can tell I’m not really interested, can’t you?)
Let’s begin, as usual, with the press. They are making much of McClaren’s “recall” of “strikers” “dismissed” by Erickson in the shapes of Defoe, Bent and Johnson. Another, Ashton, would have been there but for his heartbreaking injury. McClaren has played the Walcott card to the press once more, declaring him unready for international football. Crouch has begun to feel some reflected malice from the concentrated kind being directed at Erickson, who made the front page of the Sun today by dint of his contract with the FA.
I’ve seen both of Walcott’s cameos with Arsenal this new season, and quite honestly I’d have him before Bent, if not necessarily Johnson. Jermaine Defoe is having a hard time finding regular football, has been for some time, and that perhaps reflects in his patchy England record so far. The failure of one of the big four clubs to acquire Johnson in the close season mystifies me: he’s possessed of tremendous pace, skill and confidence in front of goal, and resembles a thicker-set, skinheaded Owen. A year at Everton – with due respect to David Moyes – isn’t quite what he needs at this point. Walcott has had – thirty minutes? in which he’s come up with the assist of the season so far, shown the ability to scare defences and present a threat to goal. Perhaps the under-21s are the right place for him at present, but only just, and his performances warrant something kinder from McClaren.
Who could do more to protect Crouch from the reflected inglory of the man who correctly elevated him to international status. Crouch is now scoring regularly for Liverpool and England both, unlike any of the more fabled names around him, and no longer looks out of place. Except, of course, to the kind of person who still finds his height as funny as they did the first time..
Under Erickson, this kind of game had a habit of being quite tight – the players would do enough to win, but no more, given the amount of football they’d be playing over the course of a season. That intelligent pacing didn’t help England in the end, as injuries to Owen, Rooney and Neville demonstrated. I’m expecting a change here – McClaren has a number of players in his squad who are out to prove themselves. What we are likely to see is a version of an idea I talked about a few months ago – a lesser, more direct and hungrier England team to take on the minnows, and, hopefully, take them apart. It’s a version that has Gerrard and Lampard in it, both out to prove that their inability to play together wasn’t a result of their own poor communications and lack of nous, but somebody else’s fault altogether.
If Crouch plays, 2-0, with Peter scoring both and taking his tally to ten in nine internationals. If he plays with Johnson, AJ to add a brace of his own: 4-0. If he plays with Bent… and I’m suddenly oppressed with a great sense of has it really come to this..