Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughWhat is England’s best central-defensive partnership? - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough What is England’s best central-defensive partnership? - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

What is England’s best central-defensive partnership?

With John Terry now consigned to international retirement, the debate rages on as to who should Roy Hodgson turn to at the heart of his side’s defence as he begins to plot England’s route to success at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, should they qualify.

The Rio Ferdinand saga continues but as shown by the whole “tube-gate” furore, Hodgson appears unlikely to give the Manchester United man an opportunity in an England shirt again so for this argument’s sake, Ferdinand will be removed from discussion.

On first glance it would appear that Joleon Lescott would be a shoe-in for one of the central-defensive roles. The Manchester City man was one of England’s more impressive performers alongside Terry at Euro 2012 and with his left-foot, offers a sense of balance to the backline. However, Lescott’s form so far this season at the Etihad has been shaky, so much so that he has lost his place in the side to young Serbian Matija Nastasic. Indeed, questions have been raised about Lescott’s use of the ball at the highest level and at the of 30, hardly represents the long-term solution to England’s problems.

Lescott had his opportunity given to him at the Euros after Terry’s expected partner for the finals, club-mate Gary Cahill, suffered a broken cheek in a pre-tournament friendly. Cahill has youth on his side at the age of 26 and has performed with distinction since his move from Bolton to Chelsea, where he was part of the side that somehow kept out both Barcelona and Bayern Munich on their way to an unlikely Champions League success. Hodgson is known to be a fan of Cahill and he can surely expect to be given opportunities to stake his claim for a place.

However, it has actually been Phil Jagielka who has been given an extended run for his country so far this season. After failing to get off the bench at the European Championships, Jagielka has enjoyed an impressive start to the season for Everton and impressed for England by scoring in the August friendly victory over Italy. Tellingly perhaps, Jagielka was then started ahead of Cahill when John Terry was ruled out of September’s home qualifier with Ukraine through injury. However, there just appears to be doubts about Jagielka’s quality on the international stage. A fine defender he may be but his showings in defeats against Spain and Holland in the past have betrayed a lack of technique required from a defender at this level and though he has never had to rely on his pace, is hardly going to get any quicker at the age of 30.

Thus, could it be that Hodgson’s best central-defensive partnership actually currently sit on the Manchester United treatment table. At the start of last season, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling looked set to cement themselves as regulars for both Manchester United and England for many years to come, particularly after an impressive showing from the pair of them in central defence for England’s Under-21 side in the 2011 European Championships. However, the pair have almost slipped under the radar due to a combination of poor form where Jones is concerned and injury concerns for the both of them.

However, both seem most at ease when playing simply in central-defence, and importantly, alongside each other. The two appear to bring the best out of each other, with Jones preferring to be the ball-playing sweeper-style centre-back, while Smalling is the more traditional defender. The former’s form has suffered arguably due to his versatility in being able to play in a number of positions but has excelled in the past for Blackburn when given an extended run in central defence. Smalling’s form is less of a concern and indeed were it not for injury, it is possible that the former Fulham man would have started ahead of Lescott alongside Terry in Poland and Ukraine in the summer.

With the two of them both currently absent however, it appears as if Hodgson will turn to Jagielka and Lescott for the qualifier against Poland and indeed that does seem to be the correct, safe choice. Jagielka will certainly not let anyone down and although Lescott lacks form this season, the alternatives have either not had much game-time in Cahill, or are complete novices at international level in Ryan Shawcross.

However, if Hodgson really does have one eye on the World Cup as he continually refers to when asked on Rio Ferdinand, then perhaps he should take a longer term view than having two 30-somethings at the back and once they return to fitness, hasten the arrival of the Jones/Smalling partnership as quickly as possible.

Adam Mazrani