By Oliver Platt
Coachless until May, missing two star players to injury and suspension and now robbed of two midfielders with nearly 150 caps between them. It is a good thing expectations are low for England this summer at Euro 2012, because the road to Poland and Ukraine, after a fairly comfortable qualifying campaign, could not be much more rocky.
Frank Lampard followed Gareth Barry in exiting the England camp on Thursday after suffering a thigh injury in training the day before. At 33 years of age, the injury will cost the Chelsea midfielder a place in what was likely to be the last major tournament he featured in for his country.
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It is possible that Roy Hodgson will value Lampard's experience during qualification for the 2014 World Cup but it is difficult to see a place for him at the finals in Brazil. Jack Wilshere, Jack Rodwell and Tom Cleverley would already have been pushing for a central midfield berth if not for various recent injury problems and their cases will only be stronger in two years' time.
Perhaps Lampard's most valuable trait, given the transitional nature of the England squad, would have been his recent experience in defying overwhelming odds with Chelsea. Still riding the crest of the wave of the Blues' Champions League triumph, the former West Ham player might have been able to help England go some way to achieving something similar to Roberto Di Matteo's team.
Lampard's departure further depletes Hodgson's selection options in the centre of the park, where Barry joined an injury list that already included the aforementioned Wilshere and Rodwell. Cleverley's frequent spells on the sidelines cost him his place in the squad while fellow Manchester United playmaker Michael Carrick was not interested in a bit-part role with the national team, a loss which is looking increasingly significant.
Still standing are Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker, who now look almost certain to start the tournament as Hodgson's preferred duo. James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are versatile and can provide cover, with Jordan Henderson also present as backup having initially been included only on the standby list.
The situation is clearly not ideal. Lampard may not have started matches over Gerrard or Parker but the lack of cover now available is an issue. Gerrard has found himself struggling with injuries more frequently recently and, at the age of 32, did not manage 90 minutes in his last two England appearances combined. Hodgson hauled him off at half-time against Norway in order not to tire his captain but he will play three group games in eight days once the tournament is underway.
Gerrard and Lampard are not identical as players but there is very little lost in the way of quality and experience when one replaces the other. After Gerrard and Barry were substituted against the Netherlands in February, Milner partnered Parker in the centre and the pair's comparative lack of international experience showed. They played into the hands of a Dutch team that was set up to counter attack and went on to score three second half goals.
Using three players in central midfield, which Hodgson will surely need to do against the likes of France, will now stretch England's resources to the limit. The former West Brom manager may have been brought in to oversee the development of a new brand of football at the St George's Park National Football Centre in Burton upon Trent but skills like discipline, reliability and versatility are looking increasingly like the order of the day for now.