Wayne Rooney scored two goals for Manchester United against AC Milan last night, taking his tally for the season to 25 goals. With Rooney’s second half performance came the most compelling evidence yet that the England forward is ready to take on the world this coming June. The England ace already has 25 goals for England, and the manner in which he bullied the AC Milan defence last night, suggests that England’s chances will ultimately rely on the form and fitness of the former Everton striker.
The concern for Capello must be that as good as Rooney has been for club and country this season, his colleagues in the England starting line-up have been nowhere near as good. If we take for granted Capello’s first choice England side as David James, Glen Johnson, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Aaron Lennon, Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Emile Heskey and Wayne Rooney, how many are currently in any sort of form?
Let us start by considering the goalkeeping situation. I selected David James as England number one, but even if it is Robert Green, or Ben Foster etc, none of these players are in great form. James has spent a good portion of the season injured, whilst Ben Foster is nowhere near holding down a regular place in Alex Ferguson’s side. Capello needs someone he can rely on, with big tournament experience, and that would be David James. However, the player suffers from lapses in concentration, and is becoming increasingly injury prone, missing 9 of Portsmouth’s 25 league fixtures this term. Whilst Capello may yet opt to remain with Robert Green as first choice, the player has hardly made the position his own, as his performances this season for West Ham have been patchy. This will almost certainly be a problem position for Capello.
Defensively, England appears to be in a spot of trouble. In the wake of recent revelations regarding his private life, Terry has lost the captaincy. Although he has performed admirably for Chelsea since the scandal, how he will react once he leaves the comfort of Stamford Bridge is uncertain. Rio Ferdinand is fit again now, but is clearly not operating at 100%. Glen Johnson has missed 9 games for Liverpool already this season, whilst Ashley Cole faces a race against time to get fit for the World Cup after breaking an ankle. In short, there is a mini injury crisis at the back. In both fullback positions, cover is limited, and Wayne Bridge has not yet committed himself to international future, whilst Joleon Lescott and Matthew Upson are simply not in the same class as Terry and Ferdinand.
In midfield, Aaron Lennon and Steven Gerrard have both struggled with groin injuries this season, and whilst Lennon has played some of his best football to date for Tottenham when fit, Gerrard has looked off the pace, managing just 5 goals for Liverpool this term. Gareth Barry has not been particularly impressive for Manchester City this season, and question marks remain over his ability to anchor the midfield, given his lack of pace. However, with Owen Hargreaves unlikely to feature any time soon, Barry will need to find his form before World Cup begins in June. Frank Lampard alone has been close to the form that he is capable of for his club, and despite a more withdrawn role for Chelsea this season, has scored an impressive 10 Premier League goals.
In attack, Wayne Rooney has been in the form of his life. An injury to the Manchester United talisman does not bear thought. However, his partner, Emile Heskey, is once again struggling at club level. Against Crystal Palace on Sunday, Heskey was withdrawn at half time. He has scored just twice in the league this season, and is not guaranteed to start for Aston Villa. Scoring is not the most important facet of Heskey’s game, and winning headers and working the channels is what earns him a place in Capello’s side. However, Capello must hope Heskey’s recent form for Aston Villa does not diminish his performances for England.
What is reassuring perhaps, is that the scandal, injuries, and poor form that some England players have been saddled with, is occuring now, and not in April or May. However, England must hope that by June, their fortunes have improved, because if the World Cup was next week, England could not hope to give the performance we all know they are capable of.