International – Capello puts focus on Rooney
Eurosport – Wed, 06 Feb 15:32:00 2008
- Video: Capello press conference
- Tonight’s predicted line-ups
- Capello casts Owen aside
- Brooking: Places up for grabs
The Italian selected what is likely to be his first starting XI as England boss during the session at London Colney – and there was no place for Michael Owen.
The new national coach picked a practice match side that had Rooney up front on his own, supported by four attack-minded midfielders – David Bentley, Steven Gerrard, Joe Cole and Ashley Young – with Owen Hargreaves playing the holding role.
Capello has already said he will not inform the players of the starting XI until they are on the bus bound for Wembley tonight, but already he has given the clearest indication yet of how he may approach the game.
The omission of Owen is the most noticeable change from the Steve McClaren era. The Newcastle striker was a shoe-in on the former coach’s team sheet, but despite his excellent goal scoring record for his country – 40 goals in 88 internationals – Capello has shown he is not afraid to drop him.
That means Rooney will be expected to lead the line on his own in a role that he has already been asked to perform on a number of occasions for Manchester United this season.
Of course, Rooney is no target man and Capello will not think otherwise. But with a midfield quartet of such potency in support, Rooney will not have to bear England’s attacking burden all on his own.
A week ago, Rooney played a similar role for United when, in the absence of strike partner Carlos Tevez, he was supported by Cristiano Ronaldo, Ji-Sung Park, Nani and Paul Scholes in the 2-0 win over Portsmouth.
During that game, all four midfielders got forward at every opportunity to help out Rooney – to devastating effect, as United swamped Pompey – and Capello will ask the same of his own midfield four. With Hargreaves anchoring play and sitting just in front of the back four, Gerrard et al will be free to do just that.
Whether Capello will allow Rooney to drop deep is another question. The striker is one of the hardest working players in the Premier League, but sometimes his tendency to drift back and instigate forward play infuriates. His manager Alex Ferguson said as much recently, claiming he preferred to see Rooney in goalscoring positions rather than lying deep in a playmaking role.
Should that aspect of his game reappear tonight, the onus will fall on Joe Cole and Gerrard to push on and fill the gap, with Young and Bentley supporting from wide areas.
Nine England managers have recorded victories in their first game in charge. Should Capello’s selection manage to recreate the fluidity shown by Manchester United of late, expect that number to read ten by the morning.