With just 20 weeks left until World Cup 2010, Fabio Capello's England have been decimated by injury, undermined by poor form and plagued by unsettling transfer speculation.
A general mid-season malaise has spread through the heart of Fabio's projected first team. Thank goodness this is only late January and not early April.
Starting at the back, the goalkeeper's slot must be the one causing the manager most concern at the moment, with his first choice, David James, sidelined firstly by injury and then by contractual complications.
The alternatives, at this moment, appear to be Joe Hart.full stop. As well as he is playing at the moment, he is still very inexperienced and you wonder whether he is ready to be thrown in to the cauldron that is the World Cup where reputations and self belief can be destroyed by one careless mistake.
As we all know, as a goalkeeper there is no hiding place. Mistakes are, more often than not at this level, severely punished and, as Paul (who put that divot there?) Robinson and, before him David (whoops I think it's going over my head!) Seaman will testify, never forgotten.
If we look at the back four, Rio seems to be in a fairly delicate state at this stage in his career where one injury is leading to another and he appears unable to string together enough games to regain the consistency he became renowned for. The image of him sitting forlornly in the crowd wearing increasingly bizarre head gear is about all we have seen of him lately.
Glen Johnson is also injured at present but, more worryingly, like Steven Gerrard, he is languishing in a team devoid of confidence and direction. When he has played, his defensive frailties have often been exposed due to the lack of protection he has been afforded by Liverpool's erratic midfield.
In midfield, Gerrard has been carrying a niggling injury for some time but, like Torres, has continued to play because Liverpool simply don't function without him. Continued speculation about his future at Liverpool must also be unsettling, whether it is true or not, and could further affect his form.
Frank Lampard has had a relatively average first half of the season by his own recent high standards. A lot has been written about his dislike of the role given to him by Carlo Ancelloti and this could be an underlying cause of his slight dip in form.
Owen Hargreaves situation remains a mystery. Before Christmas there were positive noises coming from Old Trafford about a return in the early New Year, but things have now gone very quiet.
I believe a fit Hargreaves would be a huge bonus for England, but time is rapidly running out for him to prove his match fitness before South Africa. I am not a huge fan of his temporary replacement Gareth Barry. To me, he is an honest, hard-working player but lacks that extra bit of quality needed at the very top level.
Joe Cole still hasn't quite got back to his best and is currently embroiled in distracting contract negotiations. Hopefully, if he can keep injury free, and sort out his future he has time. A fully fit, settled Joe Cole would be a nailed on selection for 'Fabulous' but a great loss to the team if he fails to get back to the form he was showing last season.
Aaron Lennon is another on the injury list with a groin strain and, although it doesn't appear to be a serious one it is keeping him out of the front line at a time when Capello is carefully monitoring his players' form. Lennon, for me, is the preferred starter wide right. He offers more in terms of consistency and variety than the erratic Wright-Phillips and offers a more direct threat than our lord Becks who , along with Peter Crouch, will be part of Plan B from the bench.
Up front, all probable options are relatively injury free at present with the main man and only definite starter, Wayne Rooney, enjoying a rich vein of form even if his outstanding performances of late have possibly been thrown into greater relief due to the declining form of his Man United team-mates.
The problem here is who partners him?
Emile Heskey, as willing a workhorse as he is, continues to baffle me as Capello's preferred choice. It appears that the manager's thinking here is that he is the only forward in the frame whose style of play compliments Rooneys.
However, although Heskey and the other contenders have had their moments this season, no-one has really regularly performed anywhere near the level of old 'potato head'.
So,with a few exceptions ( and here I reluctantly include the renaissance of the otherwise deservedly unpopular Ashley Cole), this is a slightly worrying time for all 'football's coming home' advocates and a pleasingly smug one for the prophets of doom.
If you are a member of the former, let's take heart that our perennial nemesis, Germany, more often than not, approach major tournaments in poor form, struggle through the qualifying rounds and reach their peak in the latter stages.
Also, because form is often characterised by a series of peaks and troughs, by definition a decline is required after a success to enable a team to rise again for the main event.
That argument sits well with our impressive performances in the qualifiers, our present predicament and our hopes for the finals.
So.no problems then. We just need to wait and things will improve.
Keep the faith!
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