Yes, I know Owen scored another two very good goals and Ferdinand managed a piece of country dancing before scoring the third, but the engine room of our 3-0 victory over Russia was our central midfield. Gerrard and Barry were absolutely outstanding from kick off to final whistle. Indeed, they were probably tackling back on the way to the dressing room at half time. We expect great things from Gerrard every game and in recent games, I don’t think we’ve seen them. But versus Israel and now against the far more accomplished (but not brilliant) Russians, the partnership of Gerrard and Barry looks like it has been in place forever.
The pair bossed the midfield to such an extent that the Russians had no answer in the first half and either played on the break or down the flanks in the second. This limiting of their attacking options made our back four’s job pretty easy. Even when they did threaten, what was really pleasing was the way one of Barry and Gerrard was there to break up the play and bring the ball clear. The link between back four and midfield was solid and meant that we were very seldom reduced to thumping the ball upfield to relieve pressure and hence immediately surrender possession.
In an earlier blog, I said we should play Barry on the left. OK, got that one wrong. He is a revalation to me in central midfield. Barely putting a pass astray, playing simply, enabling our strikers to cause heaps of trouble and of course, laying on Owen’s first goal. I sincerely hope that McClaren resists the temptation to include his ‘star’ players merely because they are fit. I’m talking about Lampard in particular who ought to be set for a good long spell on the bench as Gerrard’s understudy while Carrick, if he ever makes the team again, should be subbing for Barry.
It is interesting that in a game where neither Cole nor Wright-Phillips sparkled all that much, we were able to make a mess of a previously solid Russian defence (one goal conceded all group before Weds night) because our centre pairing could take the strain and maintain the required pressure. There is hope for this England team yet, and therefore hope for McClaren. But only if he pays attention to what is right in front of his face.
As for Rooney. Does he come back for Heskey? You know, that’s actually a tough one. Yes, if he will play in a defined role as support striker for Owen (because that is why Owen has looked so dangerous in the last two games). But brilliant though he is, he is prey to selfishness and over confidence and that leads to wasted chances. This is not about pandering to egos or having any player with a divine right to play. This is about England winning football matches, and in some style. Nothing else matters.