England V Wales: 5 Things We Learned About Fabio Capello's Team
England's 1-0 win over Wales at Wembley has put the Three Lions on the verge of qualifying for next summer's European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.
A first win in five home games means they only need a point next month in Montenegro to secure their place in the draw having missed out on the tournament four years ago.
The match was also Fabio Capello's final competitive fixture at the national stadium, unless they somehow contrived to throw away top spot in Group G and have to go through a playoff.
Capello has been in the job for a little more than three years now, but there was still plenty of him to learn about his players and for us to learn about him following the slender victory of England's neighbours.
No Flying Without Wings for England
Ashley Young may be the man who has enjoyed a significant upturn in fortunes for England in 2011, but it is his former Aston Villa teammate Stewart Downing who shone brightest on the flanks against Wales.
For so long England's nearly man, Downing's largely uncredited form at Villa Park is now gaining wider recognition upon his move to Anfield.
Many scoffed at the £20m fee that brought him Liverpool, but that is a matter out of the player's control. All he can do is continue to improve for club and country, and he has certainly done that.
Downing and Young combined for the goal which eventually saw off Wales, the former's surge to the byline and cross setting up the latter's near-post finish.
With so little creativity coming through the middle, England relies heavily on the wide men. Between Young, Downing, Theo Walcott and -- if he can recapture his best form for Tottenham-- Aaron Lennon. England has four wingers with vastly differing attributes who can provide a vital supply line for Wayne Rooney, Darren Bent and Andy Carroll.
England's First Choice Defence Remains Much the Same
In the absence of Rio Ferdinand and Glen Johnson, Capello was given the opportunity to put his other options at centre-back and right-back under scrutiny in two competitive matches.
Gary Cahill has firmly staked his claim as first reserve in the heart of the England back line. The Bolton man's face now fully fits alongside John Terry, although the England skipper will probably still relish playing next to a fully-fit Ferdinand.
Phil Jones also got a shot against Bulgaria, but his graduation into the fold full-time will depend greatly on his playing time at Manchester United and the final destination of the much-coveted Cahill.
Smalling has had a full 180 minutes of senior international football over the past week. Not bad going for a young man ostensibly playing out of position. What he lacked in composure over those two games, he made up for in energy, but there is little for regular right-back Glen Johnson to worry about upon his return from injury. The Liverpool has often been accused of similar shortcomings, but his greater experience at club, European and international level keeps him firmly in the box seat.
Should Smalling continue in that position at Old Trafford and progress as well as is hoped then that could change, but for now Smalling remains an England defender in the making rather than the genuine article.
Capello Has an Abundance of Solid but Unspectacular Players at His Disposal
There may have only been two changes from the side which cruised to a 3-0 win in Bulgaria just four days previously, but the team which faced Wales at Wembley only featured half of the outfield players who started against them at the Millennium Stadium back in March.
On Tuesday evening, Jack Wilshere, Darren Bent and Glen Johnson were missing through injury, Scott Parker started on the bench to prohibit him from a ban-incurring yellow card and Michael Dawson paid the price for Tottenham’s poor start to the season by dropping out of the squad completely.
In that quintet’s absence came Chris Smalling, Gary Cahill, James Milner, Gareth Barry and Stewart Downing. That switch of half the outfield clearly necessitated a change of style but they were all players who, to one degree or another, are of international caliber.
While England may be well short of enough top-drawer players for them to occupy fourth place in the FIFA rankings without feeling slightly embarrassed, they are able to draw upon plentiful reserves who can do a job for their country against lower-to-mid-tier opposition when necessary.
The Players Still Know Who’s the Boss
When Frank Lampard was dropped to the bench in Sofia despite being fit, media and fans alike were quick to sound the death knell on the veteran midfielder’s career. Reports of his England demise proved to be exaggerated when he was restored to the starting line-up against Wales.
However, the message was clear: Nobody is immune to the axe if it is deemed necessary by the boss.
Capello did something similar back in March to Gareth Barry. The Manchester City midfielder had drawn a lot of criticism for his clogging, pedestrian performances since the World Cup, and he was not selected to play against Wales in Cardiff. Then, three days later, he captained the side against Ghana.
Mixing up his squad in such a fashion, as and when he sees fit with little respect for experience and reputations has enabled players on the fringes of the squad to get a run-out and inject some hunger back into the more senior players.
Capello Is Happy to Go Back to the Future
Just as Capello can be ruthless with his team selections, so he is also fond of ignoring the feelings of the fans.
Following the debacle in South Africa, the knee-jerk reaction was for the manager to cull all of the failed ‘golden generation’ and bring through a whole raft of young talent to form a side that would play together for the coming decade.
While a few players in their teens and early 20s have broken into the side – Jack Wilshere, Andy Carroll and Joe Hart being the most successful of the new batch – plenty of faces in England’s revolving cast have remained the same.
If one year ago England fans had been told that Capello would name a midfield trio of Frank Lampard, James Milner and Gareth Barry there would have been an outcry. Now with the benefit of context, however, the selection was greeted merely with a resigned shrug as the realisation that it was the best available choice dawned.
Capello even eschewed the opportunity to bring on Tom Cleverley late in the game for a full debut, instead preferring to limit the Manchester United midfielder to a teasing taste of senior international football from the bench.