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Page last updated at 09:49 GMT, Thursday, 15 April 2010 10:49 UK

World Cup scouting: attacking midfield

James Milner and Frank Lampard
Is Milner close to usurping Lampard in the England team?

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

Of the many stories that emerged from last weekend's FA Cup semi-finals, there was one that may have been overlooked.

Sure, there was Portsmouth's shock victory over Tottenham, renewed criticism of the Wembley pitch, and John Terry's tackle on England team-mate James Milner, but Frank Lampard also bagged his 22nd goal of the season for Chelsea.

His strike sealed a 3-0 victory over Aston Villa and helped put the Blues on course for a league and Cup double. It also meant Lampard has now scored more goals in a single season than ever before.

And with the World Cup in South Africa just over eight weeks away, that can only be very good news for England.

606: DEBATE
Alistair M - BBC Sport

Last week, Lee Dixon talked about the defensive midfield options for England boss Fabio Capello. As far as the attacking midfield role is concerned, the 31-year-old Lampard is once again the man in pole.

But there are a few challengers to his position, including Milner, who has surprised many, including me, with the way he has adapted so well to the central midfield role at Villa. He has been a real force this season and his form has had Capello rightly purring.

I've already outlined my thoughts for the right side of England's midfield and next week I will look at the choices on England's left, but this week I will assess Milner's chances of breaking into the England midfield.

THE CONTENDERS

It is pretty safe to say that both Lampard and Milner will be in Capello's provisional squad when it is announced on 16 May. In my view, both will make his final 23-man squad on 1 June, too.

Milner's versatility means he can play anywhere in midfield, but he has a tough job getting into the starting line-up.

He is not going to beat Lampard, Steve Gerrard or Gareth Barry to a starting spot, so that leaves the right side of midfield. But with pacy pair Aaron Lennon and Theo Walcott vying for that position, would Milner make it?

Michael Carrick is a contender in central midfield, of course, but Dixon spoke about him last week and feels he is more of a holding midfielder. Milner provides more dynamism and has definitely overtaken the likes of Jermaine Jenas in the pecking order.

From an attacking perspective, England's midfield is blessed with riches. Not only can they call upon Lampard but there is always the option of bringing Gerrard into the middle. Personally, I think that is the Liverpool captain's best position.

The problem for Gerrard is that employing Lampard in front of Barry proved very successful for England in their World Cup qualifying campaign, so I don't think Capello will change that.

Why would you want to alter something that has worked so well?

STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

The fact that Milner is pushing for a starting spot has come as a pleasant surprise to me, but I'm not shocked he is looking a certainty for England's World Cup squad.

I know him quite well from the time we played together at Newcastle. I can tell you first-hand that he has a tremendous attitude and works very, very hard.

What impressed me most about him was that he always wanted to improve. He was one of those players who you had to drag off the training pitch. It appears he is reaping the rewards for all that effort.

LAMPARD AND MILNER THIS SEASON
Frank Lampard and James Milner
32 -- League appearances -- 31
17 ------- League goals ------- 5
12 ------ League assists ------ 12
77 ---- Total England caps ---- 7
20 ---- Total England goals ---- 0

Milner is a pretty smart lad, too, and was always prepared to listen. I expect he relishes working under managers like Martin O'Neill and Capello.

With five goals and 12 assists in the Premier League so far this season, he is definitely a creative player with attacking intent, but he still has some way to match Lampard.

The former West Ham midfielder has scored 20 or more goals in his last five seasons at Chelsea, an incredible achievement for a central midfielder - albeit an attacking one.

A lot of strikers would be delighted with those kind of statistics. I think that puts his achievements into perspective.

But there is a lot more to Lampard than just his goals. For a start, only Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas has more assists in the Premier League than the Chelsea star this season - Lampard has 12 of them.

There is his hunger and desire, too. It seems if you are beyond 30-years-old and you have one bad game, you are past it, but Lampard has not had many of those over the last few years.

For me, he just keeps getting better and better. His goalscoring record this season backs that up.

It helps that he plays the same role for England as he does for Chelsea, although he did feature in a slightly different position earlier in the season under Carlo Ancelotti.

VERDICT

Gerrard might be more suited to playing an attacking role in the middle of midfield, but Lampard is my choice.

England have flourished with the Chelsea man in that position, qualifying with ease for the World Cup finals in South Africa.

As for Milner, he is a very good option to have on the bench, although I think there is more to come from my former Newcastle team-mate.

Alan Shearer was talking to Alistair Magowan



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see also
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: right-backs
12 Mar 10 |  World Cup 2010
World Cup scouting: left-backs
02 Mar 10 |  World Cup 2010
World Cup scouting: goalkeepers
30 Mar 10 |  World Cup 2010


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