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Manic Mondays - Changing a winning team
Manic Mondays - Changing a winning team
Tuesday, 18th Sep 2007 16:29

Due to the re-scheduling of this week’s game for Sky purposes I thought I’d turn my attention to the national picture for one week only.

There’s plenty of spurious links between England’s last two performances and the game against the Toon Army. Fortunately Michael Owen didn't add to his recent tally, as I’m sure all the newspapers was expecting. Sam Allardyce may well have been the man at the helm of the national side under different circumstances. And the man currently in charge of England has a long-standing Rams connection.

One of the main talking points after the Israel game was whether McClaren would change a winning side after gambling so effectively on Heskey, Barry and Wright-Phillips.
He made the brave and correct decision to keep the same team, rewarding those who performed so admirably. Changing tack after a good performance would have sent the wrong message out to both the players who came in (saying they weren’t good enough) and those who pulled out through injury (don’t worry, it doesn’t matter how bad your current form is, you’ll always start).

However what should McClaren do next? We have a vital home match against Estonia in October before what could be the most crucial game of the group away to Russia. If Rooney, Lampard, Hargreaves and Beckham are fit, what should McClaren do then?

Not changing a winning side is the easiest option to take now. If there’s a hiccup a coach can always point to the last couple of performances and say the players under-performed, everything in the build up was the same, yada, yada.

However truly great managers make the right changes at the right time for the right reasons – or is it just lucky managers that do that?

If it were me I would certainly send the same starting XI out against Estonia, if nothing else to give the returning stars a kick up the backside and show them they have to win back their place. Even an under par display should be enough to see off an already eliminated side.

It’s the game against Russia that intrigues me the most. Played in a hostile environment on a plastic surface needing to keep at bay the tricky Russian forwards what side would be best?

A lot of the praise thrown at Micah Richards has been well deserved, but I’m not completely convinced with his positioning when playing at right-back. A great centre-half he will undoubtedly be, but I believe that, if fit, it would be a good game to bring back Gary Neville.

I can hardly believe I’ve just written that, neither of the Neville brothers fill me with any great enthusiasm, but in that game, in that position, I think experience will prove to be vital.

And with Neville I would also play Beckham. There is no way in a million years Beckham would have scored the goal that Wright-Phillips managed against Israel, he would never have been that far up the pitch. But in a tight away match set plays will be even more important and Beckham’s delivery along with his defensive capabilities and knowledge of playing in front of Neville should prove invaluable.

One place I would leave well alone is in the centre of midfield. Barry was, for me, the most outstanding player over the last couple of games. And he looked to combine brilliantly with Gerrard, I would certainly leave Lampard and Hargreaves on the bench.

So to the greatest dilemma, who to play up top? One change looks as though it will be required against Estonia as Heskey appears to have an injury that will keep him out of the starting line-up. The choice will probably be narrowed down to Crouch or a returning Rooney? I believe this could be the most difficult decision of the lot.

Right now my gut instinct would be to go for Crouch for both matches. I’m no big fan of the lanky striker, but picking this team is about getting the right result so we can qualify for the European Championships.

Rooney might not like it, but bringing him back for these fixtures would enforce a complete change in the way we approach the game.

He is a world class player and will certainly be a major force should we reach the final stages, but, for now, let’s keep the momentum up and maintain the big man, little man partnership.

Photo: Action Images

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