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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 February 2007, 10:03 GMT
McClaren's learning curve
By Chris Bevan at Old Trafford

This was meant to be the start of a brave new world for Steve McClaren's England - but it turned out to be the same old story.
Steve McClaren
McClaren bore the brunt of the crowd's frustration at Old Trafford

In his own words, McClaren and his side had something to prove against Spain after ending 2006 with a three-game winless run including a disastrous defeat in Croatia and a disappointing home draw with Macedonia.

But now that slump is up to four matches after an insipid display that ended in a 1-0 defeat to Luis Aragones' men.

Wednesday's friendly was England's first game in a year that will decide whether they go to Euro 2008 in Switzerland and Austria.

A tough trip to Israel, and what should be a walkover against Andorra, await in their next two qualifiers in March.

With those two matches in mind, McClaren came to Old Trafford with a twin goal - to get the England fans on his side and to assess some of the fringe players in his squad.

The boos that rang out at the final whistle showed how badly he failed in his first task.

But what did McClaren learn about each department of his team - and, more importantly, where does he go from here?

GOALKEEPER

Mission accomplished. Ben Foster has only played 18 Premiership games but he made the step-up to international level with ease.

He had no chance with Spain's goal but he made one outstanding stop, handled another cross impeccably and dealt confidently with everything else that came his way.

He is unlikely to displace Paul Robinson in Tel Aviv (whether he should is another matter) but at the very least McClaren knows he has a capable back-up in place if he needs him.

DEFENCE

He had not played for England for three years but Jonathan Woodgate showed what a class act he is - now all he has to do is stay fit.

606: DEBATE
footy_analysis

If John Terry has any setbacks between now and the end of March, Woodgate is more than capable of stepping in alongside Rio Ferdinand.

But as for the selection of Phil Neville at left-back, just one word - why?

The 30-year-old already has 50-odd caps, most of which have come in the last few years while McClaren has been in the England set-up - so it is fair to say he knows what he can do.

Sure, he was dependable here, but there is nothing more frustrating than seeing a player make headway down the left-wing then have to turn back to cross with his right foot.

That is especially true at international level, and even more so when he is the only outlet on that flank.

This was the perfect opportunity to give Gareth Barry a proper go on the left - or even blood the likes of Nicky Shorey (or Leighton Baines had he been fit).

McClaren said he did not want to start Barry at left-back as that was not his natural club position - yet guess where the Aston Villa man ended up playing for the last 15 minutes after coming on for Gerrard at half-time?

MIDFIELD

"What did surprise me was how often we got two versus one down England's left-side. They left one man there and that gave us a few opportunities."

Steve Gerrard and Frank Lampard
Gerrard [left] and Lampard failed to convince together once again

So said Luis Aragones, and so thought the majority of people at Old Trafford as England threw men down the right flank and left the (right-footed) Phil Neville on his own on the other wing.

England's so-called 4-3-3 looked hopelessly unbalanced. But that was not the only perplexing choice that McClaren made.

What could he possibly have learnt from watching Joey Barton for the 10 minutes he gave him as a substitute?

Again Frank Lampard and Steve Gerrard failed to convince they can play together - but, if this was a game for experimenting, then why bother - he already knows that.

Why not give Lampard and Gerrard 45 minutes each to show who can boss a game - and pair them with Barton in the centre of midfield?

The Manchester City man got the biggest cheer of the night when he did finally make an appearance but he was not given time to make any sort of impression on McClaren or anyone else.

Michael Carrick was left to pick up the pieces in the holding role and, although it was understandable why he failed to stamp his authority on the game, a fully-fit Owen Hargreaves should be first-choice here.

FORWARDS

The first five minutes were fantastic - it was just a shame about the other 85 or so.

A total of two shots on target by England - one in the first minute, one in the last, tells its own story.

It is a pleasure to welcome Kieron Dyer back to international football and he showed again how he can play on the right, left - or behind the main striker. McClaren, unsurprisingly, was delighted.

But poor Shaun Wright-Phillips looked like a man who could be tackled by his own shadow right now.

He was always willing to run with the ball but his lack of match sharpness was brutally obvious, as was his inability to get round Spain's left-back Joan Capdevila, and Aaron Lennon will be welcomed back with open arms.

A lot rested on Peter Crouch's shoulders as the focal point of England's attacks and he was as industrious as ever - but England are too often one-dimensional when he is involved.

Jermain Defoe came on and looked lively but by the end McClaren's only tactic seemed to be to lump it up to Crouch and then see what happened next.

So all that was proved was how few ideas England have when a certain Wayne Rooney is missing from their line-up.

And at the moment he seems to be the only man capable of lifting England out of their current mire.



SEE ALSO
England 0-1 Spain
07 Feb 07 |  Internationals
What England fans expect
07 Feb 07 |  Internationals
Keeper Foster given England start
06 Feb 07 |  Internationals
Barton books in
07 Feb 07 |  Internationals
Hargreaves to miss England game
05 Feb 07 |  Internationals
Terry fit for England - Mourinho
04 Feb 07 |  Internationals
Barton wins first England call-up
02 Feb 07 |  Internationals
Pick your England XI
05 Feb 07 |  Internationals


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