Let’s pray Barry is fit for the World Cup

by William Abbs

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

Gareth Barry has until Tuesday to prove his fitness to Fabio Capello and secure a place in the England squad for the World Cup. But his teammates have been doing their best to state Barry’s case for selection even while his ankle injury continues to put his participation in the group stage in doubt.

England might have won their final two warm-up games for South Africa, but Barry’s absence has been keenly felt in both. The midfield imbalance that plagued the national side during the years prior to Capello’s appointment has been granted an unwelcome return.

When David Beckham’s metatarsal became the world’s most famous broken bone in 2002, the Sun converted its front page into a prayer mat. It urged worried fans to call upon a higher power, to will the England captain back to fitness for the World Cup. A crass ploy, of course, but an understandable one within the context of tabloid journalism. There is little likelihood of the Sun reviving their tactic of 2002 this summer in a bid to help Barry’s ankle get better, but the Manchester City midfielder is arguably as important to England’s chances in South Africa as Beckham was in the Far East eight years ago.

Those who have played instead of Barry recently have not done well. Michael Carrick and James Milner failed to impress against Mexico in the middle of the pitch. Tom Huddlestone started alongside Frank Lampard against Japan but Huddlestone was off the pitch by the time England scraped victory. Another possible Barry understudy, West Ham’s Scott Parker, did not play at all in either game.

As is commonly acknowledged, the blossoming of Barry as an international midfielder under Capello has benefited Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard too. With Barry the withdrawn midfielder, Gerrard and Lampard are free to get forward. The Liverpool captain starts on the left wing when Barry and Lampard occupy the central berths in a midfield four, but again this benefits the balance of the side. Gerrard’s natural instinct is to move infield from the left, permitting Ashley Cole to overlap from full back.

Barry’s defensive awareness was missed against Mexico, with Carrick and Milner at fault, and the away side overwhelmed England’s back four in the first half. But prior to Sunday’s match there was already a groundswell of opinion in favour of England altering their midfield system in anticipation of Barry’s unavailability. Both David Moyes and Terry Butcher advocated change in the weekend’s papers, with the former plumping for 4-3-3 in the Sunday Times and the latter suggesting 4-1-4-1 in his column in the Mirror.

The eagerness for an extra man in midfield, accommodated by doing without a strike partner for Rooney, has come about because of Barry’s absence. Without him, England suddenly look insecure in midfield. They will need to solve that problem in the knockout stages, if Barry is unavailable, and if England can get out of the group without him.

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  • http://www.ukfootballfinder.co.uk Darren

    Another shocking performance with so many questions left unanswered. What was the point of putting Scott Parker in the squad if he had no intention of playing him? Lampard and gerrard in the middle? Here we go again, the side looks completely unbalanced again.

    I just hope we r saving our best for the tournament becos on this form we r not getting out of the group.

  • W.A.

    Capello clearly doesn’t rate Parker. This is exactly why some players retire from international duty. Parker could’ve started his summer holiday early – he’s been sitting on the bench getting splinters when he probably wishes he was on a sun lounger.

    England don’t often lose warm-up matches before tournaments but their performances are usually awful. Even Euro 96 was preceded by that woeful 1-0 win over a Hong Kong XI.

    The USA game is when it gets serious!

  • Stevie

    at least the media are not getting to carried away this time. There’s no doubt Capello’s England are a much better side then Svens. We do have a habit of winning when playing badly and that’s what wins your tournaments!

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