In the build up to Euro 2012 Capello arguably has a wealth of options on the wings with Young, Johnson, Downing, Walcott, Milner, Joe Cole, Lennon and Sturridge all vying for places as well as the more unproven Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Milner is certain to go to the Euro’s due to his ability to play on both flanks and in the middle as well as his almost unrivalled work rate. It is also fair to assume that on current form, especially within the context of Rooney’s suspension, that Sturridge will be chosen as one of the forwards, even if he is played wide on the right in a 4-3-3. This leaves, Walcott, Joe Cole, Lennon, Downing, Johnson, Oxlade-Chamberlain all in contention for what will presumably be 3 slots.
Johnson’s form this season
Despite a good end to the 09/10 season Johnson was overlooked by Capello for the squad that went to South Africa, but since then he has picked up 9 caps for England as well as scoring twice.
This season Johnson’s form has been very good despite not always being a regular fixture in the City side. Scoring 5 goals from the wide position is good, especially as it is only in 6 starts, compare this to his England rival Stuart Downing who has played 22 times and scored 0 goals. The only disappointment there is the lack of starts for Johnson, which could certainly work against him when Capello chooses his side.
Johnson does only have one Premier League assist this season, although he often operates cutting in from the right which limits his crossing and thus assist opportunities. His dynamic style of play often consists with taking full backs on and raiding into the opposition box which is where he arguably differs from his England rivals. Another important statistic is that he completes the third highest ‘key passes’ per game out of any City player which demonstrates his creativity and attacking potency.
Assessing Johnson’s England prospects is of course redundant without assessing the form of his rivals:
Walcott is somewhat of an enigma. Clearly he can be incredibly dynamic as England fans saw with his hat-trick in Croatia during the World Cup qualifiers, but he often flatters to deceive. He has operated in a front three this season but has scored a disappointing 3 goals considering he has had 55 shots so far this season, which is demonstrative of how wasteful he can be at times. This lack of cutting edge as well as end product could cost Walcott who sometimes struggles to make the right decision when in attacking positions. Although despite this criticism he has managed four assists this season and does get called up for Capello. With his pace and dynamism he could be an option coming off the bench.
Oxlade-Chamberlain appears to have dislodged Arshavin in the Arsenal side having started against Manchester United on Sunday, which led to Arsene Wenger being booed when he took the young winger off. Oxlade-Chamberlain looks like somewhat of an unknown entity at the moment but he does appear to have good pace and skills, and was constantly lively against United. If he can maintain a place in the team as well as good form there is no reason why he cannot be in contention.
Lennon is playing regularly for a team who are flying in the EPL and like Walcott he possesses great pace, but unlike Walcott he has developed the technical side of his game to a slightly higher standard than his England rival. Lennon’s three goals and 2 assists mark an improvement in his form and a brilliant run and goal against Fulham are testament to this. In fact the three goals he has this season are as many as he managed all last season which is further evidence of his improvement. His decision making and end product have began to improve this season with him experiencing a respectable 85% pass completion, Walcott by contrast has only enjoyed an 81% pass completion rate.
Downing appears to have curried favour with Capello lately with recent starts but a glance at his form makes dismal reading, no goal and no assists raises the question of what he has been doing for Liverpool this season. With this in mind if Capello is to pick his side on form Downing should not even be in consideration unless he seriously improves in the second half of the season. With Johnson and Sturridge also offering a left foot it makes his place in the team seem even more unlikely. Of course its possible to put too much emphasis on these statistics but it is still a damning indication of what his form has been like thus far. Further to this he is not the quickest winger and without much pace in the middle of the park for England having fast, dynamic wingers is crucial especially with regards to transitions in play from attack to defence.
Joe Cole is someone who has passed under the radar lately. It is of course a lot easier to be ignored when playing outside of the bubble that is the EPL. He has been playing well for Lillie with 3 goals and 2 assists in Ligue 1 this season. Of course Ligue 1 is certainly of lower quality than the EPL but he also performed well in Lillie’s Champions League run. One thing Cole offers is a bit of skill and an eye for a pass that arguably none of the other England players can offer. Although playing in Lillie as stated makes him a lot easier to ignore and in that regard it would be unlikely for Cole to be included due to the good form of other players in that position. After several long lay-offs he has also lost pace.
Who will go?
With three slots available if we assume Milner will go due to his versatility and Sturridge as a forward then Johnson will surely have to be included if not solely due to his dynamism and goal threat. The only thing that could potentially cost him is the lack of starts he has enjoyed in the Premier League, as stated only 6, although he has featured fairly regularly as a sub (9 times) and in other competitions such as the Carsling Cup. As an impact player for England his aforementioned dynamism and pace could be crucial as England often look stodgy, slow and short of ideas. Someone that can run at players and cause problems cannot be easily overlooked, as well as the fact that he represents a goals threat cutting in on his left foot.
With regards to the other two slots then it seems implausible for Downing to be included given his poor form for his club. As stated Joe Cole is likely to be ignored due to playing in France which will probably see Young and Lennon go as the other two wingers. Walcott could perhaps be included as a forward, or as a fifth winger depending on how many central midfielders and forwards Capello opts to take with him, as well as depending on the formation he chooses.
If the system chosen by Capello is a 4-3-3 it would allow Johnson and potentially Sturridge or Young to be given the freedom to play high up the pitch, however if it is a 4-4-2 Johnson would perhaps be less suited due to his inclination to always break forward and perhaps a lack of defensive discipline. . Of course February’s friendly is absolutely key to determining who is in the mind of Fabio Capello.
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