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Five trends of the 2014-15 Premier League

Tactics & Analysis
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By ESPN Staff

'We need Hargeaves to gel us together' - McClaren

Steve McClaren will turn to Owen Hargreaves to supply the glue to ensure England do not come unstuck in Israel next month.

McClaren has been a man under siege since the dismal friendly defeat to Spain at Old Trafford last week.

Given England's parlous state in Group E, it has even been suggested in some quarters that defeat in the next Euro 2008 qualifier in Tel Aviv will effectively end McClaren's reign as coach, even though he has only presided over four competitive matches since succeeding Sven-Goran Eriksson.

McClaren's major defence, specifically to the Spain debacle, was the sheer weight of players who did not feature at Old Trafford.

And, Wayne Rooney aside, chief among the absentees was Hargreaves.

It is a measure of Hargreaves' rapid rise in status that his presence in Eriksson's squad at the start of the World Cup campaign raised eyebrows across the land.

Yet, as virtually the only unqualified success story in Germany, the 26-year-old is now regarded as one of the cornerstones of McClaren's new-look team.

'The majority of big teams have someone in the middle of the park who gel it all together,' said McClaren.

'Claude Makelele does it at Chelsea, Roy Keane did it when I was at Manchester United.

'They are the ones who do all the unseen work and provide the glue that allows other players to go out and express themselves in a more effective way than if that person wasn't there and they had more responsibility.'

In England's case, that means handing Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard the latitude to attack from deep, which they do to such great effect at club level.

The lingering belief Lampard and Gerrard cannot operate in the same midfield has only been enhanced by poor recent England performances.

However, McClaren has no intention of heeding the clamour for one of them to be axed, preferring instead to focus on the three games in which the duo featured with Hargreaves this season - against Greece, Andorra and Macedonia away - all of which were won.

'We have seen them all play together so few times,' lamented McClaren.

'Hopefully, we will see it more in the future because certainly, in the games he did play, Owen gave Frank and Steven more freedom to play.'

Having fully recovered from the broken leg that kept him out for five months, Hargreaves is now sidelined again after an emergency operation to remove his gallstones.

However, McClaren is confident the Bayern Munich man will be fit by the time the crucial trip to Israel comes around and ready to offer the kind of British-type midfield industry which comes sprinkled with that famous German discipline.

Indeed, McClaren felt Hargreaves was a class apart from the first time he played under Eriksson.

Immediately after his international bow against Holland in 2001, McClaren was stunned when the then 20-year-old demanded to see a video of his performance.

'He wanted me to go through the game with him,' recalled McClaren.

'I just thought 'Wow'. It was very unusual. Normally, you have to drag players in to watch them.

'But he wanted to see it and ask questions about specific situations.

'He was only young but it was obvious he was a different breed, with a different mentality.

'That is one of the big reasons Sven stuck with him when he was being criticised.

'He had that great belief, determination and mental strength to want to improve and since that day I have seen him grow and grow.'

Hargreaves' CV now extends to two World Cup campaigns, a European Championships, four German league titles and, in 2001, a Champions League triumph.

It increasingly appears he will be playing his club football in England too, having been courted so extensively by Sir Alex Ferguson.

And, while his brief trip 'home' last week only brought more speculation of tour of Manchester United, McClaren believes Hargreaves presence within the England camp only proves how devoted the Calgary-born player is to the national cause.

'It is typical of the lad's attitude that he wanted to come to England and be around the squad just for two days, even though he was not going to play,' he said.