Strange word, should. In footballing terms, it’s best only ever to whisper it to a close friend behind closed doors.
Players should come off the bench when asked by their managers. If they ever meet, Manchester United should beat Port Vale. England should beat Montenegro. Then again, England should have qualified for the last European Championships, and nobody needs reminding of how that worked out.
Nonetheless, tonight England take to the City Stadium in Pogdorica, safe in the knowledge that a draw against Montenegro will be enough to guarantee qualification for the Euro 2012 Finals.
Ahead of the game, Montenegro coach Branko Brnovic has said that he intends to rest several first team players to avoid any unwanted suspensions for their final qualifying match against Switzerland.
However, any England fans licking their lips at the thought of a weakened Montenegro side being the only thing standing between them and a flight to Poland and Ukraine might want to cast their minds back to last October.
This time last year, Wembley was the setting for one of England’s worst performances under Fabio Capello, and although a repeat of the goalless draw of that night would ensure qualification, a repeat of the performance would be far from encouraging; disjointed, lacklustre, stifled.
Many critics of the England team of late have focused on the mental block that seems to haunt Wembley’s hallowed turf. In their last home game, England just managed to scrape past Wales, on a night that was far more encouraging for Gary Speed’s men than it was for Capello’s.
Away from home, however, England are a different beast. The only negative taken from their 3-0 victory in Bulgaria came from the stands, as racist chanting from both sets of fans marred what was a superb night for the England team.
England were thoroughly ruthless against a Bulgaria side that was out-run, out-thought and outplayed in every area of the park. There was an urgency about England that Capello will want them to recapture tonight.
Those with good memories will recall that in Bulgaria, England played a defensive midfield pairing of Scott Parker and Gareth Barry, leaving Frank Lampard on the sidelines.
There is still much conjecture about whether Lampard will start tonight; while his experience is more-or-less unrivalled, at 33 he isn’t the quickest player in the world, and part of England’s success in Sofia was founded on their athleticism, beating Bulgaria to every ball.
There is a school of thought that says a similar, brawn-over-brains approach would work well against Montenegro. That being said, Lampard has four goals in two games for Chelsea and may just have given Capello a selection headache.
Wayne Rooney, meanwhile, has told the manager that he has ‘absolutely no problems’ lining up for England tonight following his father’s arrest in connection with an alleged football betting scam. While England fans would argue that Rooney’s inclusion is a big boost, Montenegro coach Brnovic feels differently.
“There is no player who can’t be stopped,” said Brnovic. “I think the England defence will have more problems wondering how to deal with Mirko Vucinic and Stevan Jovetic than we will have with their attackers.”
Bold words indeed, but not without a morsel of truth in them. While it is unwise to under-rate Rooney, England’s defence has looked suspect recently. Square pegs in round holes like Chris Smalling at right-back have made England’s back-line look, if not weak, then at least vulnerable.
With Phil Jagielka, Kyle Walker and Micah Richards to choose from, Capello would be wise to heed Brnovic’s words and opt for the more defensively-minded Jagielka. Vucinic already has a goal and an assist to his name for Juventus this season, and is the most likely Montenegrin to cause England trouble.
More likely to cause England trouble, however, is complacency. This should be a fairly straightforward game for England; no major injury worries, no Wembley jitters, the fact that a fairly small footballing nation is fielding a weakened side. But if there’s a team that knows how to make life difficult for itself, that team is England.
The phrase “architects of their own downfall” is so regularly pasted over the back pages of the papers after an England game that it might as well be sewn onto the shirt.
If tonight England play with ebullience rather than belligerence, and most importantly with a sense of fun that seems to have been missing from England sides since Paul Gascoigne hung up his boots, they should win, and comfortably. Should.
Tags: Branko Brnovic, England, Euro 2012, Fabio Capello, Frank Lampard, Montenegro, Scott Parker, Wayne Rooney