Ahead of an England game, the problem area is usually in the middle of the park. This time, the right-side of midfield is the major headache.
It's refreshing in a perverse way, but still worrying as we move into the season before South Africa 2010. Glen Johnson has surely established himself as the first-choice right-back, but who's going to play in front of the Liverpool man in the long run?
Capello is sending mixed messages to David Beckham, it must be
said. The veteran has been capped 12 times by the Italian,
including substitute appearances – just a couple shy of Fabio's
favourite Gareth Barry, who's featured 14 times. Based on that, and his
vast experience at this level, the former skipper would normally be
worth a place in the World Cup squad. However, Capello has made is very
clear that old 'Golden Balls' won't be travelling to South Africa if he's
still in Los Angeles come the New Year. His crossing ability remains
virtually unrivalled, but he'll have to have European sharpness or
he'll be denied his umpteenth swansong.
Arsenal winger Theo Walcott is perhaps the biggest conundrum in terms of the World Cup. He hasn't had a run of full fitness for a while, and certainly didn't enjoy a full pre-season. For this reason, he's unlikely to see much time on the pitch against the Dutch, if any. More than that, though, he's yet to fully settle on a position. Does Capello really want someone on the right who desperately wants to play up front? He's hit-and-miss at this level, too, and he may not have the toughness – mental or physical – to become a key part of a Capello side proving themselves to be tough customers. It's a big season for him at both levels, during which he must turn potential into guarantees.
One man whose club situation could affect his World Cup chances significantly is Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Manchester City have spent big and have a plethora of attacking options
to work into a squad which doesn't even have Europa League football to
pad out their schedule. Capello's selection method is, at its core,
dependent on form and first-team football. Both of these factors could
hurt Wright-Phillips, who doesn't even have an impeccable fitness
record on his side. We could learn very little from his substitute
appearances against Ukraine and Kazakhstan.
Aaron Lennon's form last season brought him back from the international wilderness, and he quickly shot up a few places in terms of the pecking order for the right-sided berth. His crossing and consistency are now much-improved, even if he is playing for an unpredictable Tottenham Hotspur side. This season he'll be tasked with feeding two England fringe men – Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe – on a weekly basis, meaning that Capello will see a lot of him. However, he appears to have fallen back off the plinth after so-so performances against Slovakia and Ukraine.
The boss has already hinted that Arsenal youngster Jack Wilshere, at just 17-years-old, is in his thoughts ahead of the World Cup. Many coaches believe in bringing a complete wildcard to a major tournament; so this fearless starlet could fit the bill; his ability to play on the right side, despite being left-footed, is certainly intriguing. "We have time to look at him and months to decide if we go to South Africa," Capello said. "It will depend a lot on whether he plays for Arsenal." However, Under-21 boss Stuart Pearce warned, "I find it a little bit sad that we over-hype players. He needs to be allowed to blossom in his own time."
Then, at an extreme push, perhaps left-sided Aston Villa star Ashley Young could play on the right. However, in principle bending players' positions ahead of a major tournament would be a bad idea, thus Capello is likely to use Young to offer something different if Steven Gerrard's fitness jinx during the international calender dates continues.
Plenty of options, then, but no certainties. Beckham will have a very good chance if he can hop back to Europe after the MLS season, although Capello's stance is far from ideal: giving an ultimatum to a potentially key player is a risk. Someone can yet nail this role, and one would assume that if Walcott, with his raw ability and potential to improve quickly, takes a massive step up, he'll be packing his bags for South Africa and preparing to battle the vuvuzelas with 'God Save The Queen'.
Greg Ptolomey, Goal.com