England Football: Does Joleon Lescott's Form Spell the End for Rio Ferdinand?
The performances of England's two centre-backs against Spain on Saturday laid the foundation upon which they secured a surprise 1-0 win for Fabio Capello's team.
Scott Parker was characteristically busy in screening the back four against the world champions but it was Phil Jagielka and, most notably, Joleon Lescott who were the keys to ensuring that La Furia Roja left Wembley with only their vastly superior possession stats for comfort.
The duo of Jags and Joleon did a great turn in their impression of John Terry and Rio Ferdinand. The gutsy Jagielka played despite suffering with a fractured toe and was a no-nonsense stopper very much in the Terry mould, getting in plenty of blocks, well-timed tackles and dominant headers.
Terry, who already has plenty on his plate with the fuss around the ongoing police investigation into allegations of racism, is under pressure to deliver a solid performance when England host Sweden at the same ground on Tuesday in the second part of their double-header of international friendlies.
The England captain has received the backing of his manager and the FA as a man who is innocent until proven guilty, so, barring any police charges or catastrophic loss of form, the armband should see him cling on to his place in the team come Euro 2012.
However, the same cannot be said for Ferdinand. The Manchester United defender turned 33 years old last week, and the catalogue of injuries that have dogged him throughout his career are becoming ever more prevalent.
Since the World Cup—which he missed due to injury—Ferdinand has started just two of England's 13 matches. The most recent of those was a 2-1 home defeat to France in a friendly almost exactly a year ago.
Capello's most frequent partnership since the South Africa debacle has been that of Terry and Gary Cahill, who have started four times together. However, Lescott's place in the defence of current Premier League leaders Manchester City has seen him leapfrog the Bolton defender, who is an integral part of the English top flight's leakiest defence this season.
Lescott gave everyone a reminder of just why City paid an eight-figure sum for him a little more than two years ago against Spain. His reading of the game and calm influence with the ball at his feet helped keep the England back line together as they were under siege from Xavi and company.
The former Everton defender has been a much-maligned figure since swapping Goodison Park for Eastlands, but he has taken the opportunity handed him by Kolo Toure's suspension for failing a dope test with aplomb. The 29-year-old is now the starting centre-back for the best team in England, a side which has conceded just 10 goals so far this season. Only Newcastle have allowed fewer.
While credit for that record can rightfully be shared with many of his world-class teammates, Lescott's performance against one of the best international sides in living memory is compelling evidence of his own individual qualities.
Those attributes just happen to coincide with many of those Ferdinand possesses: excellent anticipation, good control, the ability to pick out a pass and the knack of rarely conceding fouls in dangerous areas against tricky opponents.
Lescott has a long way to go before his talents and achievements can be held up to those of Ferdinand—one of the finest ball-playing defenders England has ever produced—but right now he is the man both in form and in the England team, with time and fitness on his side.
With just a handful of friendlies left before the final squad for Poland and Ukraine is announced, Ferdinand can be forgiven for harbouring genuine concerns about his international future.
England's starting centre-backs since 2010 World Cup (England score first)
Spain (H) 1-0: Jagielka and Lescott
Montenegro (A) 2-2: Cahill and Terry
Wales (H) 1-0: Cahill and Terry
Bulgaria (A) 3-0: Cahill and Terry
Switzerland (H) 2-2: Cahill and Terry
Ghana (H) 1-1: Cahill and Jagielka
Wales (A) 2-0: Dawson and Terry
Denmark (A) 2-1: Dawson and Terry
France (H) 2-1: Lescott and Ferdinand
Montenegro (H) 0-0: Lescott and Ferdinand
Switzerland (A) 3-1: Lescott and Jagielka
Bulgaria (H) 4-0: Dawson and Jagielka
Hungary (H) 2-1: Terry and Jagielka
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