Why Capello Must Take Tom Huddlestone to South Africa
With Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand injured, and Jermain Defoe and John Terry suffering a recent loss of form, there has been much speculation in recent weeks as to who Fabio Capello will choose in central defence and attack—surely two key areas of the pitch.
However, there is even more fierce competition for central midfield slots, as several high-quality Premier League players continue to slug it out in front of Capello and team.
While Gareth Barry, Steven Gerrard, and Frank Lampard are all certain to be selected in the final 23-man squad, there is at least one other place up for grabs.
In light of Fabio Capello's glowing praise of Aston Villa's James Milner this season, you could be forgiven for asking why I am writing this piece.
However, Milner, despite impressing in centre midfield for Villa, is more useful to England for his ability to play on both flanks and provide versatile cover. He is also more effective in an advanced midfield role.
Steven Gerrard has played many games for England coming in off the left wing and, with so few viable options in that position, Capello may well ask him to continue to make the sacrifice for the sake of the team.
On the one hand, while Barry has been a regular under Capello, he has not played at a particularly high level consistently for Manchester City this season. He has also shown a tendency to misplace passes in dangerous areas of the field while on international duty.
On the other hand, Tottenham Hotspur's Tom Huddlestone has enjoyed a fine season, almost ever-present alongside other injury-prone and often inconsistent team-mates. For the most part, he has featured alongside feisty Honduran international Wilson Palacios. In this partnership, he has generally been a box-to-box player.
When playing alongside the more creative and elusive Croatian Luka Modric, he has had to sit deeper to allow Modric to roam forward and create chances.
Despite only scoring one goal in the league and three in total, Huddlestone has managed to stamp his authority on more games for longer periods of time than in the past, when critics would accuse him of floating in and out of the game and lacking fitness and finesse. His recent performances against the league's top three teams—in two of these he was facing a five-man midfield—have demonstrated his improvements unquestionably.
Huddlestone, predominantly a centre back in his Derby days, is strong at centre-back and dangerous on both ends of set-pieces and at both ends of the pitch. He also has a superb range of passing skills and an excellent touch.
Yet, the man Spurs fans call 'Thud,' a moniker attributed to him for his ability to strike the ball with real venom, is still prone to committing silly fouls in his own half.
Nevertheless, with Lampard and Gerrard's ability to score goals from midfield, James Milner's confidence on the wing, and Gareth Barry's lack of form, the Spurs man is a sensible choice for Capello to make. His ability to open up close games with his passing and release the likes of Lennon, Walcott, Defoe, and Rooney into space could prove to be the difference as matches this summer draw to a close.
If he continues his impressive form for the remaining three league fixtures, don't be surprised to see Huddlestone starting for England against USA in less than two months time.
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