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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Nov 12, 2007

McClaren would give Richards central role

England coach Steve McClaren would have no hesitation in asking Micah Richards to solve his central defensive crisis against Austria and Croatia. McClaren is without his first-choice partnership for Friday's friendly in Vienna and the potentially crucial Wembley encounter with Croatia five days later. Rio Ferdinand's suspension has ruled him out of the double-header, while McClaren has confirmed there will be no last-minute call to check on John Terry's knee injury even if events in Tel Aviv on Saturday throw the Three Lions a Euro 2008 qualification lifeline. With Sol Campbell a virtual certainty to keep his place after an outstanding performance against Russia in Moscow last month, the debate now surrounds who will line up alongside the veteran Portsmouth man. One possibility, Liverpool's Jamie Carragher, is denied to England by his recent international retirement, so McClaren was at Stamford Bridge yesterday to see Joleon Lescott hold his own against Didier Drogba. Having showed plenty of faith in the Everton man by handing him a first start in Russia, albeit at left-back, the 25-year-old is an option. Wes Brown has more international experience, although all his recent action for Manchester United has been at right-back, where the Longsight-born player has proved himself to be a useful replacement for Gary Neville. By contrast, while Richards has replaced Neville at full-back for almost his entire nine-cap England career, his club duties are in the centre, where he has earned rave reviews from McClaren's predecessor Sven-Goran Eriksson. And, despite his relative inexperience, McClaren will not rule the 19-year-old out of the position on age grounds. 'I would have no hesitation in playing Micah Richards in central defence,' said McClaren. 'We played him there for one half against Germany and he did well and his performances there for Manchester City have been impressive.' If Richards moved into the centre, either Brown or Phil Neville could deputise at full-back, with Ashley Cole, confirmed as fit but lacking in match practice occupying the left-back slot. Having arranged the friendly in Austria as part of the build-up to Croatia, McClaren now finds himself in the difficult position of not knowing whether he is preparing a team for the biggest match of his management career or face-saving exercise to accompany the massive let-down of a failure to reach a major championship for the first time since 1994. McClaren will not know the answer until Saturday night, when Russia hope to have gained a win in Israel that will effectively knock England out. So, does McClaren hand keeper Scott Carson his debut in Vienna, or keep faith with under-pressure Paul Robinson, whom he pointedly refused to offer a totally ringing endorsement last week? Similarly, is Frank Lampard handed a starting berth or does McClaren keep faith with the midfield axis of stand-in captain Steven Gerrard and Gareth Barry, which has served England so well over the past couple of months? Peter Crouch is a virtual certainty to partner Michael Owen up front, with only Alan Smith and Jermain Defoe as competition following Wayne Rooney's shock withdrawal. 'Selection is a dilemma,' admitted McClaren. 'The game is there for two reasons,' he added, answering the unspoken question of why England are playing such a pointless game so close to a potentially pivotal one. 'Firstly we needed some kind of preparation for Croatia, so we had a chance to look at a few things and also if we do have players like David Beckham and Ashley Cole, or others who have not played all that often for their clubs, it is an opportunity to give them a game. 'It would also be good to make sure the 10 days is not solely focussed on Croatia. 'Nevertheless, I wouldn't say what we do on Friday will definitely be what we do on Wednesday.'