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The Prince(ss) and the (little) Pea

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Gerrard out of England squad, Young to start

Steven Gerrard has pulled out of the England squad for Wednesday night's friendly against Holland because of a groin injury.

The FA confirmed on Tuesday morning the Liverpool captain would return to his club due to concerns over a "tight groin" and that Ashley Young would start in his place.

"I cannot clone Stevie,'' observed coach Fabio Capello. "Every player has a different style and Ashley Young is really important because he is one of the English players who can dribble and take people on one-on-one.

"He has only played twice for me. The first time it was so-so. The second he played very well.

"Now he needs the confidence to perform against one of the best national sides in the world.

"Holland do not have the same quality as Spain but they have had some really good results, so it is a really important test.

"It gives us an opportunity to understand what we will have to do if we play against a team with the same style in South Africa.''

For Capello, Theo Walcott's likely absence will not present a problem, just as he is not concerned about the transfer speculation swirling around Joleon Lescott, who has learned an official request to leave Everton has been rejected.

"I remember speaking with Gareth Barry before an England game when a similar thing happened and he played well,'' recalled Capello.

"I hope players like Lescott and Matthew Upson are not distracted either.''

Coming just four days ahead of his side's opening Premier League fixture at Tottenham, Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez will no doubt welcome the decision to adopt a cautious stance over Gerrard's fitness.

The midfielder is a key component of the Reds' attempts to end a 19-year league title drought. However, his injury record is patchy and Gerrard has been plagued by muscular problems in the past.

Benitez will desperately hope to have his talisman available at White Hart Lane, especially as he also has defensive problems with doubts over Jamie Carragher, Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel.

The same sentiment might also be expressed by Sir Alex Ferguson in relation to goalkeeper Ben Foster - who pulled out of the squad on Monday - given Edwin van der Sar is missing until the end of September with broken fingers.

If anything, Foster's injury record is even worse than Gerrard's and there must now be serious doubts over the former Stoke man's chances of forcing his way into Capello's thoughts as potential number one at the World Cup in South Africa as Ferguson has predicted.

Joe Hart's recall was an obvious move given the youngster won a full cap in Trinidad last year and was a regular member of the England squad until Shay Given arrived from Newcastle to take his place at Manchester City.

Now on loan at Birmingham, Hart is at least guaranteed to start the new season as a Premier League regular. It is little wonder though that talk is once again surfacing about the availability of Manuel Almunia.

The Arsenal keeper is now eligible to play for England on residency grounds and there are some who think the Spain-born star should be catapulted over the current crop, including Robert Green, who is set to make his third consecutive appearance.

But Capello has ruled out any chance of Almunia being called up during his time as England manager.

"Almunia, for me, is Spanish,'' he said. "He is Spanish and he plays for the Arsenal team.''


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