England need to explore Gerrard-Rooney partnership

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles
fabio capello

England manager Fabio Capello (Photo: Paul Blank)

Fabio Capello needs to consider alternatives to the Emile Heskey-Wayne Rooney partnership for the sake of England’s World Cup dreams.

Robert Green’s error against the United States cost England the perfect start in Rustenburg, but many American fans argued it was just reward for their endeavours—a strain of thought it is difficult to argue with.

Steven Gerrard’s fourth minute strike provided the platform upon which Capello’s side should have made an emphatic statement to their World Cup rivals.

Frustratingly, however, England were content to protect their lead and allowed the USA to enjoy prolonged periods of possession, awaiting opportunities to counter-attack.

Emile Heskey’s presence up front was problematic. The Aston Villa striker’s physique is undoubtedly suited to the role of target man, yet his presence often causes England to resort to the aimless long balls Franz Beckenbaur referred to in his recent jibes.

Even Peter Crouch, Heskey’s replacement last Saturday, offered a similar service which creative players such as Gerrard and Frank Lampard—devoid of other ideas—continuously resorted to.

Throughout qualifying Capello experimented with different formations with some of England’s most attractive performances admittedly deriving from a formation which focused upon Heskey or Crouch up front. Yet the Italian manager has continually stressed the importance of retaining possession.

This philosophy is even more key in the demanding high-altitude conditions at this World Cup.

The ‘kick and rush’ style of play may be effective against slack defences but as the USA proved, well-organised back-lines can contain the aerial threat of Heskey, if not directly then by sweeping clear the intended flicks-ons or headers to Rooney.

Relatively untried is the option of playing England captain Steven Gerrard behind Wayne Rooney.

The decision of the former Liverpool manager, Rafael Benítez, to deploy Gerrard behind Fernando Torres proved fruitful—the midfielder’s best performances originated from this attacking role. Rooney, meanwhile, has flourished at Old Trafford since becoming the focal point of the Manchester United attack.

Gerrard and Rooney, who are good friends off the pitch, have shown great understanding in the past and there were glimpses of this mutual intuition last Saturday.

Gareth Barry is expected to be fully fit for tomorrow night’s clash against Algeria. The Manchester City midfielder’s return would allow Gerrard to vacate the central midfield role and be relieved of his defensive responsibilities.

Furthermore it would satisfy the critics of the Gerrard-Lampard midfield partnership. The insurance provided by Barry would allow Gerrard and Lampard to surge forward, creating more opportunities for Rooney and England’s wide players.

Barry’s return will inevitably see a shift in Capello’s midfield. For now, it is likely Gerrard will hug the left wing with the England manager again deploying Heskey as the target man.

The Gerrard-Rooney partnership, however, is one which should be explored.

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