Euro 2012: Continuing to Start James Milner for England Is a Big Mistake
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When the original announcement came of Roy Hodgson's team for his first major tournament as manager of his country, the main focus was on the perhaps erroneous omission of experienced centre-back Rio Ferdinand of Manchester United.
However, one area of lesser discussion was that of the right midfield position in England's starting 11.
Milner is, to all extents and purposes, a winger, and has been utilised as such by Hodgson thus far at Euro 2012. However, whereas a winger is supposed to pace up and down the flanks, supporting the strikers through crosses, incisive through-balls and challenging their opposite number at full-back, Milner has been generally unsuccessful in fulfilling these key tasks.
In fact, these duties have been taken on with greater success by Liverpool's Glen Johnson at right-back.
Milner certainly covers a lot of ground on the pitch—he's quite the workhorse—but for the most part, he is slow and inefficient, unlike Ashley Young on the other side of the pitch and Theo Walcott, who replaced him during the second half of the games against Sweden and Ukraine.
Walcott, blessed with blistering pace and excellent feet, was the creative spark which engineered England's excellent comeback against Sweden in Kiev, scoring himself and setting up Danny Welbeck's winner. For most of Milner's tenure in that clash, he contributed little and was outshone by the Arsenal winger's cameo appearance.
The Manchester City man does contribute at times to the England attack. His crosses into the box to his strikers can be excellent. More often than not, however, they aren't accurate enough, floating over the intended target and off for a throw or giving away possession.
Indeed, Steven Gerrard delivered an excellent ball which set up England's winner against Ukraine in Donetsk last night, showing Milner how a cross ought to be delivered.
Who should start at right midfield against Italy?
He isn't bad with his feet at all, and he can often keep possession well and hold up the ball for others, but he again lacks the ability to do this consistently, leaving England struggling down that right side of play. He tends to tire easily, and on the whole he doesn't pose the immediate, recognisable danger to opposing defences the way that the likes of Young, Walcott or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain do and have done so well in the tournament so far.
While Ashley Young hasn't quite excelled or shown all of his creative virtues thus far in Poland and Ukraine, his contributions on the left side of midfield have far outdone Milner's own on the right. While it could be argued that Walcott is but an impact player, he has at least lived up to his hype—of creating an impact.
Milner needs to be replaced for the quarterfinal clash with Italy, or England's hopes may well be left in tatters, much like the current state of their right wing.
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