England vs. Spain: Scott Parker and 8 Things Fabio Capello Learned at Wembley
England ran out 1-0 victors over reigning world champions Spain at Wembley after a dogged and determined defensive display, and a close-range Frank Lampard header in the second half.
As expected, Spain dominated possession for large periods of the match, especially in the second half, while England attempted to repel wave after wave of attacks by flooding the central area in front of the defensive quartet and asking Spain to come up with something to break them down.
The stand-in central defensive partnership for England of Joleon Lescott and Phil Jagielka, reunited after their time together at Everton, was the basis of the clean sheet but there was one other player who stood out just in front of them, namely Scott Parker.
Here are eight things that Fabio Capello and England have learned from today's 1-0 win over Spain.
England Cannot Do Without Scott Parker for the Euro 2012 Tournament
Scott Parker is enjoying a massive upturn in his career over the past couple of seasons.
Last year voted the PFA Player of the Year and this summer securing a move to Tottenham Hotspur, he is playing with the energy and commitment of a player much younger than his 31 years but is using all his experience garnered along the way to push himself to new levels on the pitch.
While Parker has always been exemplary in short-range passing and roving through the centre of the pitch between both boxes, he seems to have found his niche at both club and country by focusing his energies on ball-winning duties and a constant, unending attack on those opponents who like to operate between centre circle and 18-yard box in attack.
His huge reserves of stamina offer England the security against counter-attacks that the defence needs, while his positional sense has increased dramatically. His concentration levels, so important in the role he plays, are never-ending.
Parker is the only English player available to Capello to select for England to play in this role now.
Owen Hargreaves was on his way to being this type of player before four years of injuries struck, while Tom Huddlestone is better in distribution than Parker but is infinitely less mobile.
In time Jack Rodwell may go on to perform a similar role, but at present it is Parker who combines the off-the-ball work rate and the on-the-ball composure to make him all but certain to make the plane next summer.
There Is Life After Rio Ferdinand, but It Might Not Be Gary Cahill
England's chosen centre-back pairing for the qualifiers this season has largely been John Terry with Bolton's Gary Cahill, with Rio Ferdinand missing out frequently through injury.
With Cahill not exactly at his best level recently in domestic competition with Bolton, others will still feel they have the chance to sneak in and take a starting spot alongside the England captain Terry.
Against Spain, Manchester City's Joleon Lescott and Everton's Phil Jagielka performed admirably well, keeping a tight reign on Spain's wealth of attacking talent and repelling attacks both in the air and on the ground.
While Lescott arguably had the slightly better match tonight on account of needing to make, and successfully making, more interceptions and clearances, it is Phil Jagielka who may go on to provide the best alternative option for England as Lescott is prone to wayward movements and perhaps too easily outmanoeuvred by smaller, quicker forwards.
Terry and Cahill may return for the next friendly against Sweden, but Capello will have seen enough tonight of the two deputies to suggest one could be in line for a starting spot in the group stages of the Euros.
The Wayne Rooney-Less Conundrum Is No Closer to Being Solved
With Wayne Rooney suspended for all three group matches for England in the summer tournament, Fabio Capello needs to look at other options. Against Spain, he opted to play Darren Bent on his own with James Milner, Theo Walcott and Frank Lampard supporting.
However, with Spain enjoying huge tracts of possession, Bent cut an isolated and unreachable figure for much of his time on the pitch.
Bent is a goalscorer and for that reason alone should be taken to Poland and Ukraine, but is he the man to start for England?
Tonight will not have told Capello much about him that he didn't already know; his movement is a little predictable at times and he does not contribute enormously to build-up play, but give him a chance and the ball could end up in the back of the net.
Bent barely had a sniff all night, but the one delivery from wide which Milner put in during the second half Bent managed to get on the end of and saw his effort hit the post.
It probably would have spun in anyway, but Lampard took the goal by heading home from a yard out—but the point is that Bent can find a goal out of nothing.
He can also miss when scoring is easier, is the problem.
Phil Jones: The New Mr. Versatile for England
Attacking full-back, powerful centre-back, holding player or marauding midfielder; it seems Phil Jones is capable of doing each job equally well.
Yes, he is somewhat raw and has plenty to learn in terms of positioning and when to step out of line to close down, but in general he has been a real revelation this season and is justifiably in the England starting 11.
His main job against Spain was to close out the spaces in front of the back four and he did this well with a series of challenges and interceptions, but was also confident enough to surge into the opposition half when opportunity presented itself.
Phil Neville, Jamie Carragher, Owen Hargreaves even—England like to take someone along with them to a competition who can fill a variety of roles, and Phil Jones looks in pole position to get one of the spots on that basis alone.
There Is No Substitute for Ashley Cole
It wasn't his best individual performance, but it was a good one from Ashley Cole in a collective and defensive sense. But the point is, Ashley Cole played left-back for England.
For the full 90 minutes.
All over the pitch, England have at worst uncertainty or at best competition in most areas, perhaps with the exceptions of Joe Hart and Wayne Rooney, except with this position.
While Cole quietly went about his job in his 93rd International appearance with England, debutants appeared around him and experiments went on in various positions with players who are still fighting for a place.
But not at left-back.
England are hugely reliant on this player making the European Championships, because there is simply nobody else to replace him.
Leighton Baines of Everton is currently his backup but he has made just five England appearances and barely gets a look in despite making his debut 20 months ago.
Stephen Warnock briefly threatened to break into the squad but amassed only two caps, while the last serious challenger, Wayne Bridge, got 36 caps, mostly as substitute or in friendlies.
Rooney will be a big miss in the group stages for England, but Capello must be seriously hoping that nothing untoward happens with Ashley Cole either.
England Can Defend Against the Best, but Is It Enough in Tournament Play?
The victory over Spain for England will certainly give them a real confidence boost, but is it enough to suggest that England can trouble the favourites at the European Championships next summer?
The result says yes, but perhaps the performance gives evidence to the contrary.
A very defence-first approach from Capello's side laid the foundations for victory and the merits of such cannot be denied; but if we cannot say "rarely" then we can at least say "usually" such an approach does not work over the long haul at International level.
England offered next to nothing in attack other than the goal they scored, and they will certainly want to show much more of their final third talents than they did today if, and when, they come up against Europe's big guns in the tournament proper.
Having said that, nicking a 1-0 win against the world's best side in the final of Euro 2012 will probably go down rather well with the English public.
7 Players Did Enough to Secure Their Place in the Euro 2012 Squad
There are still plenty of decisions to be made by Fabio Capello over who exactly he will take to the tournament itself next summer, but several players can be confident that they showed enough against Spain to secure their own seat in the travelling party.
Of course, form and fitness between now and June will play a part, but all things going well the England squad may be beginning to take some shape.
In goal, Joe Hart is the undisputed No. 1 and will take his place between the sticks.
Glen Johnson being thrust back into the starting 11 at the first opportunity proves he is still Capello's first pick at right-back, while the likes of Kyle Walker, Micah Richards and perhaps even Chris Smalling and Martin Kelly will have to battle it out to be his deputy.
Ashley Cole similarly has the left full-back spot sewn up.
Moving into midfield, the trio of Frank Lampard, Phil Jones and Scott Parker are all must-takes for Capello, though all three may not be necessarily seen as starters depending on the opposition and the formation which England will take to the field with. Jones obviously has the benefit of playing in several different roles, while Lampard's experience and Parker's position as first-choice defensive midfielder make them "definites."
Up front for England can never offer any guarantees but with Wayne Rooney suspended, they need someone reliable to hit the back of the net and offer safe passage through the group stages. Fabio Capello has recently started to lay his trust in Aston Villa striker Darren Bent and though he didn't score today, he did show again that he can be a threat when given only the smallest opportunity.
At Least 6 Spaces Remain to Be Secured in England's Final Euro 2012 Squad
While some players may be thinking that their places are secure enough, others will still be praying that they have done enough to convince Fabio Capello merely that they are still worth thinking about.
Gabriel Agbonlahor has been in good form for Aston Villa in the early stages of this season and will have been frustrated to miss out on these friendlies with a muscle injury, while the likes of Bobby Zamora did not get off the bench.
In the previous slide Joe Hart, Glen Johnson, Ashley Cole, Phil Jones, Scott Parker, Frank Lampard and Darren Bent were all labelled sure-fire bets for inclusion in the squad.
To those seven we can add several players who did not start against Spain: captain John Terry and his regular partner this year Gary Cahill will expect to make the trip while suspended striker Wayne Rooney will inevitably travel despite not being available for the group stage.
James Milner will probably get the nod as a result of his versatility, work-rate and squad place at Champions League outfit Manchester City, while Ashley Young is having a good enough season at Manchester United to suggest he is a definite as long as he stays fit.
Leighton Baines is deputy to Ashley Cole at left-back.
First off, that leaves the two deputy goalkeeper spots to battle over between Scott Carson, David Stockdale and Rob Green. Others such as John Ruddy, in the Premier League with Norwich, will fancy a late run at pinching a spot.
In defence, the central players against Spain, Jagielka and Lescott, have probably moved ahead of Rio Ferdinand in the International order but the Manchester United defender should not be discounted if he regains form and maintains fitness over the remainder of the season.
Phil Jones could well be picked as the second right-back or as the fourth centre-back, though his versatility enables him to play both positions plus midfield. If he is not chosen as predominantly a backup to Glen Johnson, then Kyle Walker, Micah Richards, Chris Smalling and perhaps Martin Kelly will fight over the second right-back spot.
In midfield there are more dilemmas.
Steven Gerrard has not played for England in over a year but is almost an automatic choice when fit, while the likes of Gareth Barry and Michael Carrick are probably fighting for the same spot.
Recent caps Tom Huddlestone, Jordan Henderson and Jack Rodwell will also come into the reckoning, while Arsenal playmaker Jack Wilshere will surely make the squad if fit.
Out wide, Theo Walcott missed out on the last World Cup and will be desperate to make sure he is included, while Stewart Downing, Aaron Lennon and Adam Johnson will fight over the remaining places too.
And of course, up front Capello has big choices to make.
Together with Bent and Rooney, Jermaine Defoe will be in with a chance, while Andy Carroll, Bobby Zamora, Gabriel Agbonlahor and the as-yet uncapped Daniel Sturridge will all stake their claims.
It is sure that at least half a dozen spaces remain for the final list to be filled and the competition to take those berths between now and June will be fierce indeed.