Big Mac to go flexible in bid to beat Russia
Steve McClaren is looking for a few flexible friends to ensure England gain a vital European Championship victory over Russia at Wembley tonight. McClaren knows a win would see his side take a mighty stride towards next summer's finals in Austria and Switzerland. The England coach is convinced a repeat of their weekend showing against Israel would be enough to see off Guus Hiddink's men. But he accepts the unbeaten Russians, who have conceded only one goal in eight matches so far despite Hiddink's preference to play just three orthodox defenders, makes them infinitely more dangerous opponents. Which is why McClaren is looking for his players to show fluidity in both thought and movement in an effort to counter the visitors' threat. 'We have to try to do something Russia do not expect,' he said. 'The idea is not to play with a rigid system. It always has to be fluid and flexible. 'That was the key thing about Saturday's victory. 'Joe Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips provided great width, Emile Heskey and Michael Owen dropped in at times to become an extra midfielder and both full-backs pushed forward as well.' And within that system, Gareth Barry provided the perfect platform for Steven Gerrard to dart around. For once Gerrard might not have been one of England's stand-out performers. But, after a great degree of soul-searching, it appears McClaren has now settled on the Liverpool skipper as his own midfield talisman, a move Gerrard's inspirational performance against Andorra last March confirmed. 'Steven is the one player who can unlock doors and win a game in a split second,' said McClaren. 'He always has a job to do but with that comes a certain amount of freedom to play. 'You would have to ask him whether he lacked confidence before. All we are trying to do is get inside the person and put him on the pitch where he is most comfortable. 'I don't think he has ever been wasted but he does give more to our team in the middle. 'I always reflect back on that Andorra game. That night he was special and everyone followed. I think he has grown from that.' Such is the fine line McClaren is straddling just now that a win tonight will leave England requiring a maximum of five points from three games to get through, provided one of them came in Moscow next month. Lose tonight and Russia would hold a four-point lead it would be almost impossible to claw back. McClaren remains coy about a team selection but it would be a huge surprise if he failed to name an unchanged side for the first time in his 14th game in charge. 'As much as I would like to keep the same shape, formation and personnel, we have to be able to adapt, so we may have to tweak one or two things,' he said. 'It is not about being brave, it is about making decisions you feel are necessary to win the game. 'It doesn't matter whether they are brave or stupid as long as they work. When it works you are brave, when it doesn't you are a fool.'