The defence is arguably where there are still the most places up for grabs in Fabio Capello’s 23-man squad for the World Cup.
Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole are shoe-ins for the full back positions, barring a colossal injury-fest on the last day of the Premier League season. Similarly, despite their patchy form this season, John Terry and Rio Ferdinand are light years ahead of any other English centre-half and so their places are guaranteed.
What is happening behind that quartet in the pecking order though is difficult to interpret. Wayne Bridge’s hasty retirement from international football after close friend Terry’s dirty deeds with his ex-girlfriend leaves the back-up left back slot open. Two players are vying for the role—namely Stephen Warnock and Leighton Baines.
Baines is the more attacking option and may have the edge over Warnock for that reason. If Cole does get injured, Capello would probably prefer a like-for-like replacement. However, Warnock’s defensive qualities would come in useful in the latter stages—assuming England get there.
On the other flank, the consensus seems to be that England do not need to take a reserve right back. The truth is that there is no quality English right back who could fill in for Johnson adequately. Gary Neville’s name has been mentioned, but he is a shadow of what he was in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Capello has chosen Wes Brown in many of his England squads, but his lack of match practice will be a worry. The likelihood is that England will chance their arm by not taking one, and instead asking one of the midfielders to fill in if the problem arises.
At centre-back, there are a whole host of players looking to turn Capello’s head. Joleon Lescott and Matthew Upson have had poor seasons, but are hoping that the England coach decides to stick with what he knows. However, in-form central defenders are waiting in the wings. Michael Dawson and Ryan Shawcross have impressed fans and pundits alike this season, and the former in particular has been producing some dazzling performances recently.
There is also the possibility of Ledley King somehow making it onto the plane to South Africa. The Spurs man struggles massively with a knee injury, but his fitness has improved of late and he is undoubtedly England’s third best centre-back in terms of quality.
There are still plenty of decisions to be made by Capello at the back. It certainly looks like England lack strength in depth past his first choice back four. If England are to get anywhere near winning this World Cup, it is pivotal that Johnson, Cole, Terry, and Ferdinand are match fit.
The Linc has chosen to take John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Glen Johnson, Leighton Baines, Michael Dawson and Matthew Upson to South Africa. What do you think?