Could this England midfield be the weakest since the Graham Taylor years of the early 90's? I think it'd be hard to make a case against it.
During the ill fated USA '94 qualifying campaign (and even Euro '92 before that) we were reliant on stellar talents such as Carlton Palmer, Andy Sinton and Geoff Thomas (admittedly with the excellent David Platt). Hardly surprising we failed so poorly.
In the interim, we've been fortunate enough to be able to call on the likes of Gerrard, Lampard, Ince, Scholes, Beckham, Hargreaves, a rejuvenated and fit/sober Gazza, and even the likes of Redknapp.
That Jordan Henderson is a nailed on starter for the national team shows just how far we've fallen from the 'Golden Generation' (who in 2002 should have won the World Cup), a team we could only wish for now. Henderson is as honest a player as you will find, but his limitations are clear. Blessed with a formidable engine, allowing him to harry and hassle until the final whistle, yet not a great passer, not someone who drives forward with the ball, can't/won't dribble, doesn't appear to have much of a shot, and offers absolutely no goal threat (other than at the wrong end). He had a very good campaign last season, riding on the crest of a wave of, and indeed central to, a swashbuckling Liverpool team high on confidence, in which his role would be to win the ball and give it to Sterling or Gerrard. Unquestionably there is nothing wrong with this role, in fact an important and often unrecognised position in the modern game. However, at international level, it's not enough. I don't understand his role in the current England line up? He isn't playing deep, he doesn't offer width or penetration, he gives us nothing in the attacking third. He was virtually anonymous during the disastrous World Cup in Brazil and has been poor in every performance since, for club and country.
Adam Lallana, following a good season with Southampton, playing in a system that brought the best out of him, got his move to a big club. He was unfortunate to pick up an injury ruling him out the first 6 weeks, but has yet to find any form since his return. Rarely has there been a more overrated player for England, the epitome of average. In 12 appearances for England (zero goals), the only memorable thing he's provided is the twist and cross-shot that led to Welbeck's first versus Slovenia. He's not that young at 26, so I don't see him suddenly improving and becoming a staple of this side, but he's likely to be in the squad for years to come, giving us a short return. Compare his influence to the likes of Anderton or McManaman at their best and you quickly see how little he does.
Elsewhere we have Jack Wilshere, a player who hasn't improved since he burst on to the scene at 17, 4 or 5 years ago. Easily our best passer of the ball, and does have the ability to run with it, driving at the heart of opposition defences. Unfortunately, too often (ie. every time), he gets the slightest contact, he goes to ground, where he'll lie, protesting a free kick whilst the other team breakaway. We've all seen it a thousand times. For a few years, he's been our big hope, but it's just not happening (in fairness he's being deployed incorrectly at the base of a diamond, which doesn't utilise him effectively). Maybe a move to a team who has a winning mentality, or possibly abroad, would get him to the requisite level? However, I get the impression that he's happy playing within his comfort zone and would not be willing to test himself. Definitely not a lost cause, but needs to give us so much more.
These three players have played a combined 55 matches, returning a solitary goal between them!
James Milner continues to be an ever present in the squad, and it is easy to see why given his versatility. Although he has rarely let us down, he has never once set anyone's pulse racing. That he is a half centurion is quite frankly mind boggling. A 6 out of 10 player if ever there was one.
As back up we've recently seen Fabian Delph impress after a good couple of seasons with Villa, Jonjo Shelvey rewarded for an excellent start to the season, as well as Jack Colback. None of these are, or ever will, be world beaters. Added to this we have Ashley Young, Andros Townsend and a recalled Stewart Downing.
Where among the players mentioned above are the goals coming from? Where previously we had plenty of goals from Gerrard and Lampard, and Beckham to a lesser degree, now the team seems totally dependent on the strikers.
Of course, there are encouraging signs in the shape of Raheem Sterling and the mercurial Ross Barkley (as well as Alex Oxlade Chamberlain). On the one hand, yes we mustn't be hasty in expecting too much of them given their tender years, but on the other, they are so exciting (particularly in comparison to the aforementioned) that it's hard not to want to see them start every game. I for one called for both to start during the World Cup, and whilst Sterling was one of our better performers, Barkley didn't get much opportunity. Their time will come, and they both should be what we build around for the next decade, but I believe Hodgson has been too protective of the latter thus far. From what I can see, Barkley is certainly ready for the national team (injuries permitting).
From the Under 21's there are further seeds of hope. Will Hughes in particular looks a fantastic prospect, always able to find space and time to manoeuvre the ball. A move to the Premier League, or indeed promotion with Derby, should see him get the experience he needs. Tom Carroll too looks very useful, if a little lightweight, and a season starting at Swansea will do him the world of good. It does beg the question why Spurs, with such a limited midfield, aren't giving him a chance? More fool them.
Whilst there are positive signs in the coming years, our current options look extremely poor and we cannot possibly challenge the top teams in the world with the players starting at the moment, in my view the weakest in 20 years.
Do you agree? Disagree? Leave your comments below or contact me @russellheaps