Capello has seen players flourish, improve steadily and go backwards
By Alistair Magowan
Exactly a year ago, England fans were entitled to feel depressed as their trip to Euro 2008 was abruptly cancelled when the team lost 3-2 to Croatia at Wembley, spelling the end for boss Steve McClaren.
CAPELLO'S FIRST 10 GAMES
P10 W8 D1 L1 F25 A8
6.2.08 - Eng 2-1 Swi
26.3.08 - Fra 1-0 Eng
28.5.08 - Eng 2-0 USA
1.6.08 - T&T 0-3 Eng
20.8.08 - Eng 2-2 Cze
6.9.08 - And 0-2 Eng
10.9.08 - Cro 1-4 Eng
11.10.08 - Eng 5-1 Kaz
15.10.08 - Bel 1-3 Eng
10.11.08 - Ger 1-2 Eng
Fast forward 12 months and new coach Fabio Capello has provided a welcome catharsis, masterminding an impressive run of results while injecting the team with a new-found confidence.
The Italian's record of eight wins in 10 matches is encouraging enough, but he has also blooded new recruits and fused some exciting partnerships where his predecessors faltered.
And despite many suspecting a defensive approach from England's second foreign manager, Capello has re-established the side as an attacking force during his short spell in charge.
So with fierce competition for places following the 2-1 win over Germany, who has improved under the surprisingly liberating England coach? And who has to work harder to feature as the 2010 World Cup beckons?
FLOURISHING UNDER CAPELLO
Despite nursing a dislocated shoulder, the Arsenal winger will have time to reflect on the past two-and-a-half months as a period in which his international form finally dispelled any doubts over his talent.
He is one of the most important young players in England. At this moment, he is difficult to contain
Capello on Walcott after beating Croatia
With only one substitute appearance in Capello's first five games, most expected the 19-year-old to sit behind David Bentley and David Beckham in the queue for the right midfield spot.
But the former AC Milan and Real Madrid boss used his first World Cup qualifier, against Andorra in September, to give Walcott his full England debut.
His hat-trick against Croatia four days later made the football world sit up and blew away any doubts about Capello's judgment. And in one match it also made England exciting again.
Walcott has started every game since and his development has opened up a tantalising route from the Under-21s to the senior squad, as defender Michael Mancienne has since found.
When Rooney was named as the only forward in the starting line-up during Capello's first two games in charge, it was hard not to think back to the frustrated figure from England's 2006 World Cup quarter-final exit against Portugal.
But the limited success of trying Jermain Defoe alongside him in two of the next three games against the USA and the Czech Republic, made Capello look elsewhere and Emile Heskey's introduction in the second half against Andorra finally gave the Italian the solution he had been looking for.
Rooney set up Joe Cole's second goal in that game and the Manchester United striker has not looked back since, for either club or country.
Five goals in the next three games against Croatia, Kazakhstan and Belarus quietened those quoting only two competitive goals in four years, but his involvement in nearly everything positive England created will hearten Capello even more. Once again, England look like they have a world beater among them.
The Wigan striker has only scored five times during his 50 appearances for England and his last goal came against South Africa back in May 2003.
But while his record has not changed under Capello, Heskey's selfless work for Rooney and others has helped England score 25 times in Capello's first 10 games with only one blank, against France.
Emile Heskey deserves a special mention for his performance. The players appreciate his work-rate and his presence
Steven Gerrard after 3-1 over Belarus
That compares with only 15 goals from a similar period under McClaren, while Sven-Goran Eriksson managed 24 in his first 10 games.
Heskey had a similar effect on Michael Owen during Euro 2008 qualifying, proving that while Capello has options on the goal-scoring front, his link-up man is proving a pivotal role.
While debate has raged on the relative merits of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in the centre of England's midfield, Barry has continued his success under McClaren by being the only outfield player to feature in all 10 of Capello's games in charge.
Like Heskey, he has established himself as a key team player while perhaps not revelling in the glory and most importantly seems to be a genuine antidote to the English disease: giving the ball away.
He also showed that by playing alongside Michael Carrick against Germany, he has an ability to keep his game simple whoever he plays with. His worth as a defensive midfielder is further underlined by the continued absence of Owen Hargreaves, who will miss the rest of the season.
Was hugely impressive in England's 4-1 over Croatia where he took on a more subdued role as Walcott ran riot. Has played in all of England's World Cup qualifying campaign matches and it is notable that Gerrard has been the one told to take up wider positions rather than the Chelsea midfielder.
Gerrard is still coming to terms with how to be more disciplined at international level but seems to have been given simpler instructions by Capello when Lampard is in the same team.
LEADING SCORERS UNDER CAPELLO
Three: Walcott, J Cole, Defoe
Two: Gerrard, Terry
There were encouraging signs against Belarus when he should have scored twice, particularly as he and Lampard seemed to struggle with their positioning in the previous game against Kazakhstan.
Although he has not established himself as an adequate support striker for Rooney, Defoe has kept himself in the picture with three goals in Capello's reign but looks more like a sharp substitute than a player to make an impact from the start.
While the defence has not been the problem for England over the last few years, without one of John Terry and Rio Ferdinand there are times when a deputy has been unable to step in with assurance.
Upson looked wobbly against Kazakhstan but better displays against Belarus and Germany have given the West Ham defender a three-game run, which included a goal in Berlin.
SLIPPING DOWN THE PECKING ORDER
Hardly his fault because of so many injuries, but England's leading marksman, with 40 goals in 89 games, would be forgiven for wondering what has happened to his international career.
At this moment I am selecting the players who are in the best physical condition
Capello after the win against Germany
Appearing just once under Capello, as a second-half substitute against France, Owen has borne the brunt of his manager's insistence of fully fit players and has had to watch as Heskey and Rooney developed into a ruthless partnership.
Concerns that he does not contribute unless he is scoring can be countered when he gets back to full fitness, but it may be a battle even then with team ethic high on Capello's list of demands.
Previously a prolific marksman for England in McClaren's reign, Crouch has failed to start a game under Capello and has chalked up six appearances from the bench. With Heskey in front of him and the likes of Gabriel Agbonlahor impressive against Germany, he must wonder what future role he has with England.
Would not have expected such an emergence from Walcott but his decision to join AC Milan in January proves he intends to play a part in the build-up to the World Cup in 2010. Problems may come if, having established his fitness in Italy, he is still on the periphery.
Bentley is another who has been overtaken by Walcott and, although he was touted as Beckham's successor, has now found himself third in the queue. He started in Capello's first game against Switzerland and had to make do with substitute appearances replacing Beckham before Walcott took centre stage.
Has not been in the squad since the Andorra win in September, but a resurgence under Harry Redknapp at Spurs may help his cause next year.
Carson's mistake against Germany aside, he has had few chances to prove his worth in matches, but with James being far from polished, Carson has done little to alter a unique position in Capello's set-up where there is not a genuine competition for places. Joe Hart's recent call-up from the Under-21 side would also have given the West Brom keeper reason for concern.
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