Roy Hodgson will go back to plot England’s World Cup future.
But when results are all that matters, when the pressure is on, it would be wrong to condemn.
While Hodgson’s announcement that at the age of 31 completed a fairy-tale rise, naming a midfield hub of two other 30-somethings with more than 200 caps between them might have brought raised eyebrows and mutterings.
After all, the debate over whether Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard can play together has been going at least as long as .
Hodgson has looked at the other options, giving Tom Cleverley his chance to shine, and blooding the likes of Leon Osman, Jordan Henderson and Jonjo Shelvey.
Yet with Jack Wilshere finally turning up fit and ready to play in his first qualifier since June 2011, the England boss had no hesitation in returning to ‘s midfield mainstays of the past decade.
“I still like Tom Cleverley as a player,” insisted Hodgson. “He’s a good player. But with these games coming up, I think it’s very important I rely heavily on the quality of the players we have.
“In Frank and Steven, we have two unbelievably good players with great experience.
“I’m rather hoping they bring that quality to the team.
“I agree that Tom has been in a lot of games but he has not been competing with Jack, because of his injuries.
“Some people might ask whether it is a reflection on the challengers that Frank and Steven are still playing, but they are both under enormous pressure with their club sides, too.
“Chelsea and Liverpool buy big players but they haven’t been able to knock these guys off their perch.”
Gerrard, like Lampard, has grown tired of the suggestions that the pair simply do not dovetail, that each has the same strengths and weaknesses.
Hodgson, also, will doubtless point to the last time Gerrard, Lampard and Wilshere were on the pitch together.
That was the second half of February’s friendly win over Brazil.
Chelsea veteran Lampard, who will move within one cap of his England century, scored the winner that night.
Indeed Gerrard, with a smile that hinted at his frustrations that the hoary old chestnut was again being discussed, pointed out: “The majority of the time we played in a 4-4-2. This could be different.”
England and Hodgson will hope so, although the manager has clearly adopted a change of policy.
Alan Hutton has thanked Gordon Strachan for putting faith in him after being left in limbo by Aston Villa.
The Scotland right-back, bossed by countryman Paul Lambert at club level, enjoyed a loan spell with Real Mallorca last term and expected to be allowed to return to La Liga on Monday as his club received THREE offers from Spain.
But refused to sanction another loan move.
Hutton, who has been frozen out completely and told he has no future at the Premier League outfit, now doesn’t have a clue when he’ll play club football again.
But the 28-year-old is adamant that he is in the right frame of mind for Friday night’s home World Cup qualifier against Belgium – and Villa teammate Christian Benteke – and is determined to repay Strachan for keeping faith in him.
He, who will earn his 34th cap, said: “I want to prove to him and everyone else – not just here and Scotland, but also the manager at Villa and these kind of guys – and say, ‘You might not want me but this is what I can do and what I am good at.’
"It is a real motivation for me to show a lot of people. He (Strachan) put massive faith in me to play me. I totally respect the manager and his decisions and what he does.
“The only thing I can do is work hard and show him I am fit enough and ready to play.”
The defender will be able to move to a Championship club on loan from next week, but at the moment his dream of continuing his career in Spain is over.
He said: “I had a few opportunities to go back to Spain – there were a few options. Mallorca want me back, but I had three options to go back to La Liga and none of them could agree terms.
“It has left me in a position where I am not too sure what is going to happen.
“It is very frustrating. If you could picture me that day I was bouncing off the walls; to actually have options – not just one – to go to different teams and they can’t, or are not willing, to agree terms is very annoying.
“I was desperate to leave and nothing comes of it and you are on a bit of a downer.
Manchester City lost last season’s title before the campaign even started because they dithered in the summer transfer window and missed out on signing Robin van Persie.
Twelve months on, I am concerned that Manchester United will live to regret their deadline-day scramble – because I think they can already kiss goodbye to being No.1 in the Premier League.
Let’s be fair to David Moyes: Nobody knows Marouane Fellaini better than the United manager, and if Moyes thinks he will be a hit at Old Trafford, time will probably prove him right.
But I can’t understand why under the terms of Fellaini’s contract at Everton.
And for all his aerial power, and the steel he will bring to their midfield, .
To me, he is no Cantona, Rio or Ronaldo.
From what I saw and , when United struggled to unlock two resolute defences instead of slicing them open with surgical passing, Mesut Ozil – who was available before he signed for Arsenal – would have been a better fit.
Steven Gerrard insists England are not "weak" and no-one should write them off as World Cup no-hopers.
FA chairman Greg Dyke claimed on Wednesday that Roy Hodgson’s men are , assuming they do actually reach the finals in Brazil.
Liverpool and England captain Gerrard is understood to be in support of Dyke’s push for a radical shake-up to try and improve English football, but was also eager to insist this qualification campaign is not a waste of time.
Gerrard said: "I don’t think we’re as weak as has been suggested.
"Realistically, everyone in the room knows we’re not going to be one of the bookies’ favourites to win the World Cup.
"It doesn’t mean we can’t get there and have a successful tournament to make the country proud. But we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. Our priority is to get there first.
"To qualify is the challenge. We want to qualify for the World Cup, go there and make the nation proud. We can do that without winning it.
"Playing at a World Cup is the pinnacle of any footballer’s dream as a kid – especially in Brazil."
England boss Hodgson has also supported Dyke’s push for change but claimed that the FA chairman writing off their chances was not negative.
Hodgson added: "I don’t think any of you will be racing out to place bets on England to win the World Cup either. Our first job is to get there and work very hard with the young guys so that, when we get there, they can help the older guys.
"We don’t believe our chairman sees anything as a doomed mission. He also said in his speech how much he supports the team and hopes we get to Brazil and do well. I don’t think he’s giving up on the team. That would be harsh on him and even harsher on the team.
"We don’t see it that way. None of us, with the team, ever saw it in that way.
"We don’t believe our chairman sees anything as a doomed mission.
"He also said in his speech how much he supports the team and hopes we get to Brazil and do well.
"I don’t think he’s giving up on the team. That would be harsh on him and even harsher on the team."
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* UKRAINE coach Mykhailo Fomenko has set up a spying mission for Friday’s match at Wembley, writes John Cross.
Ahead of his lads’ showdown with England in Kiev next Tuesday, Fomenko has sent one of his assistants to watch England’s clash with Moldova even though Ukraine are playing no-hopers San Marino.
It is understood Ukraine rarely send such senior members of staff to watch opposition games, but they are drawing up a battle plan to thwart England.
Moldova are ranked by FIFA as the 123rd best international team in the world – a full 109 places lower than England – but held Ukraine to a goalless draw at home.
However, Moldova coach Ion Caras sighed: “A draw with England would be a miracle for Moldova.”
Manchester United chief Ed Woodward has privately conceded that DID come up short in this summer’s transfer window.
David Moyes, United’s new manager, wanted to bring in two central midfielders and someone to challenge first-choice left-back Patrice Evra.
But the only arrival of significance at Old Trafford during the window was for £27.5million.
And Woodward is understood to have acknowledged the inability to bring in the quota of players wanted by Moyes was a failure by the club.
United lost out in their attempts to buy midfield quartet Cesc Fabregas, who chose to stay at Barcelona, , and Roma’s Daniele De Rossi.
Forner Arsenal captain Fabregas has since said he .
They also saw their efforts to sign a left-back come to nothing, missing out on and .
Woodward is said to be have been stung by criticism of his failure to land United’s stated targets during his first window as executive vice-chairman following David Gill’s summer exit.
The Old Trafford supremo is also said to regard United and Arsenal as a major coup that has not received enough recognition.
United are adamant they did NOT make late bids and Mesut Ozil, the latter eventually joined Arsenal for a record £42.5m.
But there IS acceptance, behind the scenes at Old Trafford, that they could have done more to strengthen their title-winning squad this summer.
Across Manchester, last season’s runners-up City have displayed a coherent transfer strategy this summer and strengthened with five signings at a combined cost of around £90m.
Tottenham have bolstered a squad that finished fifth with seven new players to the tune of £110m, while Chelsea have also made significant additions in the window as the returning Jose Mourinho looks to improve on last season’s third place.
Liverpool beefed up their squad for an assault on the top four, while Arsenal’s capture of Ozil has undoubtedly enhanced their prospects this term after their fourth-place finish.
While Fellaini is an accomplished player whose physical presence and aerial threat will benefit United, he is not the creative midfield conduit they required.
Let’s be honest, shall we? England’s match against Moldova isn’t the most appetising of games. With so many players having already pulled out of Roy Hodgson’s squad, it could well be a bit of a grind for Three Lions.
We’ve all had a moan about watching England now and again, but this Sunday provides ample opportunity to check out some alternative options.
Here are five games that should prove more exciting this weekend:
Chile vs Venezuela
No, not the entirely obvious choice but this game will go a long way to deciding the fate of a possible World Cup debutant, with the visiting Vinotinto needing to avoid defeat to continue their momentum. Under impressive young coach César Farías they have shocked South America’s big boys over the last couple of years with their confident, organised brand of football and sit level on points with Uruguay in the play-off spots. Farías himself is a plucky tactician: a calming influence but also brave enough to gamble in order to secure a result. At the start of the current campaign, the 40-year-old (then 38) took the bold decision to rest all his European-based players for the game with Ecuador (they lost 2-0) so that they would be fresh and fit to play against Argentina later in the week.