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Page last updated at 06:30 GMT, Tuesday, 20 April 2010 07:30 UK

World Cup scouting: left midfield

Ashley Young and Joe Cole
Has Joe Cole (left) played enough to work his way into Fabio Capello's plans?

Alan Shearer
By Alan Shearer
Former England captain and BBC Sport pundit

Let me state from the outset I do not think left midfield is the best position for Steven Gerrard in the England team.

The Liverpool captain is that good a player that he will do a job anywhere, but he has openly admitted his favoured position is in the centre or playing just off a forward, which he does for his club.

606: DEBATE
Alistair M - BBC Sport

If it was up to me I would play him more centrally but England boss Fabio Capello has stuck with a successful formation in World Cup qualifying and I'm not sure he is going to change it now even if he probably agrees with Gerrard's assessment.

Capello still needs back-up for the left flank, though. A few players have been tried out but I have sneaky feeling the Italian may plump for the least experienced player among the options available.

THE CONTENDERS

Before Capello decided to play Gerrard on the left, it was very much a position that Chelsea's Joe Cole had made his own.

In fact, going back to the last World Cup in Germany, you could argue he was one of England best players. But his selection, along with anyone else's, all depends on the system Capello uses.

Cole, of course, has had to come back from a serious knee injury over the last year and he has struggled to hold down a place in Chelsea's starting XI. That is a pretty tough task anyway because manager Carlo Ancelotti has such a strong squad.

GERRARD & DOWNING THIS SEASON
Steven Gerrard and Stewart Downing
30 - League appearances - 21
7 ------- League goals ------ 2
8 ------ League assists ------ 0
78 -- Total England caps -- 23
16 -- Total England goals -- 0

In order to be considered, Capello has said that Cole needs to be playing regularly - and Cole's cause was not exactly helped on Saturday when, with the Italian in the stands, he was taken off at half-time during Chelsea's defeat to Spurs.

Aston Villa's Stewart Downing is among the other names in the frame.

He has been in the last few England squads but I think it's fair to say he has not really stamped his authority on the team when he has had a chance.

The 25-year-old made his big move from Middlesbrough last summer, albeit when he had a foot injury, so he has done well to get fit again and showed some good form earlier this season. When he has been in an England shirt, however, you probably haven't seen the best of him.

His Villa team-mate Ashley Young is another option. Capello, who saw him in action during Villa's 2-1 win over Portsmouth on Sunday, will know he can play down the middle or on the right in addition to his usual position on the left.

Young has had a very good season for Villa and is very quick, so I think he offers something different to the other two. With Gerrard sure to start, that might be something that affects Capello's thinking when he names his substitutes.

STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

As a former striker, the thing I like about Young is that he is direct and he attacks at pace. Those traits helped him win the PFA young player of the year award last season.

Even though he plays on the left for Villa, he is really good at shaping to take the ball down the wing and then checking back on his right foot to deliver a good ball into the box.

Young is credited with 11 Premier League assists this season and, with John Carew and Emile Heskey providing good targets, it is fair to assume some of these have come from crosses.

COLE AND YOUNG THIS SEASON
Joe Cole and Ashley Young
23 - League appearances - 33
2 ------- League goals ------ 5
3 ----- League assists ----- 7
53 -- Total England caps -- 7
10 -- Total England goals -- 0

With Manchester United's Wayne Rooney scoring all 26 of his Premier League goals in the penalty box this season, Young's crossing ability certainly comes into consideration. The 24-year-old can also score, too, with five league goals and nine overall this season.

Downing has been less prolific than Young this term with only three goals overall. He does not contribute as many assists as Young either, so even though he is more experienced than his team-mate with 23 caps, Young has more form.

Likewise, Cole has scored 10 times for England, has more than 50 caps for his country and has been to two World Cups, but I'm not sure that will count for much in Capello's eyes.

Past performances might not come into it. I think he will simply look at selection in terms of what is best for this World Cup.

The important thing to remember is that this trio of players are only vying for a place in the squad because Gerrard will start for England.

Concerns about his form for Liverpool do not worry me and I would dismiss any notion that he is saving himself for the World Cup, as has been suggested to me. Of course, the players will be excited about competing in South Africa, but you cannot save yourself for any game and he is too good a player to be accused of that.

Gerrard has had big games for Liverpool this season and he has got more to come, including the Europa League semi-final against Atletico Madrid, so only once the season is over can he start thinking about the World Cup.

England's qualifying campaign has shown that the 29-year-old can link up well with Rooney from the left and often his forays inside give licence for left-back Ashley Cole to venture forward.

But Gerrard could be at left-back and still be one of the best players in the team because he is a fantastic footballer.

VERDICT

If I was picking the final squad of 23 to be announced on 1 June, I would go for Gerrard and then Young ahead of Cole and Downing.

I am big fan of the way Young delivers crosses into the box and the pace he possesses. Not only could that help Rooney in terms of his goalscoring but also by getting up there to support him.

Alan Shearer was talking to Alistair Magowan



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see also
World Cup scouting: attacking midfield
15 Apr 10 |  World Cup 2010
World Cup scouting: right midfield
16 Mar 10 |  World Cup 2010
World Cup scouting: defensive midfield
06 Apr 10 |  World Cup 2010
World Cup scouting: centre-backs
23 Mar 10 |  World Cup 2010
World Cup scouting: left-backs
02 Mar 10 |  World Cup 2010
World Cup scouting: right-backs
12 Mar 10 |  World Cup 2010
World Cup scouting: goalkeepers
30 Mar 10 |  World Cup 2010


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