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Is a title challenge possible for Man Utd?

Manchester United
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By ESPN Staff

Lampard boost for England

Frank Lampard seems certain to be fit to face Andorra when England begin their World Cup qualifying campaign in Barcelona on Saturday.

It was feared the Chelsea midfielder might not make the encounter at the Olympic Stadium at Montjuic after limping out of Stamford Bridge following the Premier League draw with Tottenham on Sunday.

However, the injury has proved to be nothing more serious than a dead leg and he was able to get through a session with fitness coach Massimo Neri today, along with Wes Brown and Ashley Cole, who missed training yesterday after sustaining minor knee knocks on club duty.

Skipper John Terry's bug has proved short-lived as he was able to take part in both main training sessions as Fabio Capello put his side through their paces ahead of his first competitive game as England coach.

The only member of Capello's 23-man squad not to train was Rio Ferdinand, who has a stiff back.

No precise information on the Manchester United defender has been given, although he will be reassessed in the morning ahead of England's next training session.

It seems unlikely Ferdinand would miss Saturday's game, although even if he did, England's defence should not be tested too much with Joleon Lescott and Matthew Upson ready to step in and Brown also capable of playing in central defence.

• Meanwhile, Jermain Defoe is not interested in being the next Michael Owen - he is happy enough forging his own international reputation.

Fabio Capello's decision to leave Owen out of his squad for the double-header with Andorra and Croatia as England look to get their World Cup qualifying campaign off to a flying start has been interpreted as a signal the Newcastle man's time on the international stage is coming to an end.

The truth is not quite as straightforward but it is easy to see why people view Defoe as Owen's natural successor.

About the same size, with about the same speed and the same ability to sneak around defences and score goals, Defoe is almost an identikit version of England's fourth most prolific goalscorer.

Even Defoe can see the similarities. However, there the comparison ends.

'I am not thinking about being like Michael Owen. I prefer to concentrate on being Jermain Defoe,' he said.

'Maybe because of the way we play; Michael is quick, gets in behind and scores goals, that is the reason people compare us.

'But I just want to concentrate on myself and improve my own game.'

Few can quibble at the way Defoe has been improving either.

The 25-year-old is clearly enjoying life under Harry Redknapp at Portsmouth and his audacious chip at Everton, which will eventually become his goal or a bizarre assist for Peter Crouch, hinted at a player full of confidence.

Having already given Defoe three successive starts, Capello is expected to hand the striker a personal best fourth in Barcelona on Saturday.

Not that the former Tottenham man is prepared to take anything for granted.

'You can't get complacent just because you played in the previous game,' he observed.

'You must train hard, look sharp and make sure if you do get an opportunity you take it.'

A veteran of 29 previous appearances for his country, Defoe is hardly an international novice.

However, with precious points up for grabs and Defoe regarded as Owen's natural successor whether he likes it or not, he does concede the heat is now on.

'I accept there is more pressure on me to deliver,' he said.

'But that is part and parcel of being a footballer.

'As a professional, you want to play in massive games. It is what you dream about as a kid. You want to play for your country and play in massive tournaments.

'I am ready and really looking forward to the challenge.'

Defoe still shudders at the reaction England received on their last visit to the Catalan capital, when a goalless first-half led to the most vicious abuse most England observers can ever remember.

Coach Steve McClaren bore the brunt, although many players, including Frank Lampard, who was watching from the stands, were affected as well.

As England eventually scored three times, Defoe felt the vitriol was unnecessary. And he is confident there will be no repeat.

'The fans are more onside and I am sure they will be behind us on Saturday,' he said.

'We are lucky to have some of the best supporters in the world but they must remember no game is easy at this level.'

In terms of Andorra, Defoe means easy in terms of scoring.

Victory itself will be achieved in relative comfort. It is the manner that is not always pleasing on the eye, although the striker accepts England can help themselves.

'The problem is Andorra get a lot of men behind the ball, so it really helps to get an early goal,' he observed.

'It means they have to at least try and have a go.'

However, Defoe is confident Capello will have a plan to counteract opposition intransigence.

Where McClaren's teams often chased around without an obvious purpose, his Italian successor leaves little to chance.

'Fabio tells you exactly what he wants,' said Defoe.

'He is a very strong character, whose CV speaks for itself.

'He makes it pretty clear what your job is because mainly, he is trying to get us to do the same things at international level that we do with the clubs.

'Basically, we just have to believe in ourselves because we have great players.'

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