Richards eyes England recall
Manchester City defender Micah Richards is hoping his improved club form can catapult him back into the England fold. Although Richards became the youngest defender to represent the Three Lions when he was selected for the friendly against Holland in November 2006 and then went on to win 11 caps under Steve McClaren, so far he has been overlooked by Fabio Capello. The Italian did offer a glimmer of hope last month when he selected Richards in his expanded 30-man provisional squad for the win over Hungary, only to cut the 22-year-old from his eventual 23-man party. Richards has already done enough to impress England Under-21 coach Stuart Pearce who today named him in the squad to face Portugal and Lithuania in European Championship qualifying matches next month. Those two fixtures clash with the senior side's next two games but Richards will be looking for a promotion to Capello's squad which the England coach has yet to name. After forcing his way into Roberto Mancini's expensively assembled side this season and claiming a goal that Carlos Tevez also insists he scored during last night's 3-0 hammering of Liverpool at Eastlands, Richards might have been in contention for a place in the opening Euro 2012 double-header against Bulgaria and Switzerland next month even without Wes Brown's surprise retirement. "I was in the 30-man squad last time and didn't make the 23 but Wes has retired now so hopefully there is a spot there for me," said Richards. Capello's trusted assistant Franco Baldini was at Eastlands last night to run the rule over Richards and the five other members of Mancini's starting line-up who England could call upon. Baldini must have been impressed by the defender's improved concentration levels, which in the past have tended to be one of the key factors in Richards being overlooked. However, aside from buying an amazing collection of star men, Mancini has also been working hard on the training ground with those who are already at Eastlands. And, with his naturally athletic physique, Richards clearly is a young man worth devoting some time to. "I have worked on my concentration because sometimes I have tended to switch off a little bit," Richards said. "That is when the danger comes. "But it is a weakness the manager is trying to help me put right. "He keeps telling me I have the attributes to be one of the best players in England and that I just need to focus on being aware and watching the players around me. "If I can improve that, hopefully I will reach the levels he suggests." The early signs are positive given Richards is currently keeping Pablo Zabaleta out of the City team. Mancini is in the middle of a delicate bedding-in stage just now, knowing he has to try to keep his entire squad happy, while at the same time bringing some sense of continuity to a team that has been put together on the back of five successive busy transfer windows. Injuries are an obvious curse, although the strength Mancini has amassed means that even with Alexsandar Kolarov potentially out for two months with ankle ligament damage and fellow left-backs Wayne Bridge and Jerome Boateng missing for another couple of weeks with toe and knee injuries respectively, City could still call on another international, Joleon Lescott, against the Merseysiders. Yet Mancini accepts there are some he has no chance of keeping happy, with Robinho and Roque Santa Cruz both high on the list and ready to move on. "Robinho wants to leave," confirmed Mancini of a player who seems to be destined for Turkey, with Fenerbahce said to be the latest to try to seal a deal for the British record £32.5million striker. "I understand that because Robinho is a good player. "It is the same for Roque Santa Cruz so we will see in the next few days." Less clear-cut is the future of Shay Given, who may come into contention for Thursday's Europa League decider against Timisoara and whom Mancini is keen to keep even though the Ireland star realises he is condemned for a spell on the bench given Joe Hart's recent brilliance. "Joe is responding to the faith I have shown in him," said Mancini. "It was difficult for me to make this decision because I have two fantastic goalkeepers. "At this moment I choose Joe but I hope Shay can stay with us because we need two big goalkeepers." Mancini is hoping further news of the knee injury that consigned Mario Balotelli to the stands last night is not too bad, which would give the Italy striker a chance of being fit for Sunday's trip to Sunderland.
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