England National Team: Why Phil Jagielka & Joleon Lescott Should Start
Much has been made over the English national team’s 1-0 win at Wembley over World Champion Spain, most of the commentary centering on the Three Lion’s steely defense.
In the greatest insult they could apparently muster, the Spanish media characterized the English display as positively “Italian,” alluding to a primarily negative defensive mentality championed by the Azzuri. England’s defense had to be in rare form against a tiki-taka Spanish attack that has unraveled many a back line.
That England did not concede a goal to David Villa and Co. has a lot to do with their center-back duo of Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott. The two defenders had a brilliant night, sniffing out ball after clever ball the Spaniards tried to needle between them.
This pairing is a fairly recent choice by Fabio Capello owing to team captain John Terry recent legal troubles. Though Terry was on the bench at Wembley, he didn’t see a minute on the pitch and might not if Jagielka and Lescott continue playing this way.
Capello should seriously consider the possibility of starting the two relative newcomers come Euro 2012. Here are a few reasons why.
Solid Performance Against Spain
The World Champions might be out of form, but that doesn’t discount the sheer attacking power England’s back four had to deal with.
Juan Mata, David Villa, David Silva, Xavi and Iniesta are all world-class attackers, but England held them to only two shots on goal despite surrendering 71 percent of the possession.
Time after time, the crafty Spaniards tried to weave a give and go through the center of defense, but Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott rarely found themselves wrong-footed.
Once Frank Lampard scored in the 49th minute, Fabio Capello had his men park the bus on defense, giving Jagielka and Lescott more help than they would have otherwise had. Phil Jones added another layer to the middle of defense, while Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson held down the wings well.
If England can perform that well defensively against the best team in the world, Capello would be wise to continue giving them minutes. We could very well see that back line when England begins its campaign in the Euro Finals.
Proven Defensive Quality
Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott have been fixtures in defense for years on their domestic sides. They have a combined 21 years tending the back line of solid English teams but have only just broken into the international side.
Born just one day apart in August 1982, the two 29-year-olds have big game experience on top Premiership sides. Jags was picked up by Everton after a successful eight-year career with Sheffield United, where he currently combos with Sylvain Distin.
The Goodison favorite warded off many a transfer rumor over the summer and has continued to defend valiantly for the Toffees.
Lescott currently plies his trade for the impressive Manchester City. His league-leading side fields so many attack-minded players that Lescott is an invaluable steadying defensive presence.
With both men just turning 29 last August, they provide top-flight experience coupled with the exuberance of youth to stay with quicker attackers. England sorely needed a bit of speed in all areas after an embarrassing 2010 World Cup, so the addition of Jagielka and Lescott could not have come at a better time.
Bring Physicality and Freshness to the Center of Defense
Both Phil Jagielka and Jolean Lescott are physically imposing figures in the center of defense, standing over 6' tall with muscle to spare.
While Lescott could probably out-bench Jagielka in a strength contest, the two men are strong and tall enough to compete with most incoming attackers.
Not to say the John Terry, Ledley King and Rio Ferdinand couldn’t be physical in defense, but as they’ve gotten older, teams have begun to push them around. Lescott and Jagielka not only bring brute force to the backline, but they also generate enough speed to constantly pressure the ball.
They also happen to be two fresh faces to the English defense, something that fans were calling for immediately after the World Cup. Fabio Capello has listened and brought in new faces to help give the team new life.
Jagielka and Lescott only have 24 caps between them, but should see many more if their positive form continues through Euro 2012.
John Terry Has Not Acted Like a Captain
A captain for the national side should not be embroiled in a criminal case of racial abuse, but that’s exactly the situation John Terry finds himself in.
After a video was posted of the Chelsea defender allegedly aiming racist remarks at Queens Park Rangers’ Anton Ferdinand, an actual police investigation has been opened to discover if any wrongdoing occurred.
The video plays without sound and is difficult to conclusively decipher, but nevertheless, John Terry has not acted like a captain in quite some time.
Whether it was sleeping with Wayne Bridge’s girlfriend or this most recent controversy, Terry has consistently set a poor example for his team. Perhaps in response to the charges of racism, Fabio Capello sat Terry for the duration of the Spain match.
Terry was back in the starting XI come Sweden, should he be? Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott seemed to be getting on well enough without him. There wasn’t much Terry could have improved on defensively at Wembley.
If Terry does eventually return to the starting lineup, perhaps Capello should consider him in a more defensive midfielder role. Phil Jones is still young, and Terry’s distribution and experience could help the attack while not being exclusively tied to the back line.
They Both Play(ed) for Everton
No English side should ever take the pitch without fielding at least one Toffee in the starting XI. The People’s Club represents the best of English football (courage, valor, unselfishness, good, heart, need I go on?) and should therefore have as many of its players playing for their national teams.
While Phil Jagielka still plays for Everton, Joleon Lescott was made an offer he couldn’t refuse by Sheikh Mansour and in 2009 traded in his Everton Blue for City Sky Blue.
Lescott’s success on the national team has caused many Evertonians to smile fondly in memory of the three years he gave the club. “He was once one of us,” they’ll think whilst fondly sipping Boddingtons and watching England stifle Spain. Who can blame them?
Leighton Baines, another Everton hero, has also made Fabio Capello’s team, but has only six caps. Young Jack Rodwell made only his second appearance for country in a as a sub against Spain, but I like Capello’s thinking.
More Everton players on the pitch can only lead to good things. Why not give Ross Barkley a try Don Fabio? Maybe take a look at Tony Hibbert?
If Capello continues to field Toffees in key starting roles, the 2012 Euros are England’s for the taking. Nil Satis, Nisi Optimum you Three Lions.