Fabio Capello is considering dropping Steven Gerrard for Wednesday's vital World Cup qualifier away to Belarus. The Liverpool midfielder was a disappointment on his return to the team for Saturday's Group Six victory over Kazakhstan.
It is understood that Capello was impressed by the display of Frank Lampard, following on from the way he played against Croatia last month, while Gareth Barry, who was withdrawn at half-time against the Kazakhs, has performed well throughout the Italian's reign as England manager.
Barry, at present, is regarded as one of his key players, especially for a tricky game such as the forthcoming encounter in Minsk and is understood to have Capello's faith.
Gerrard is in a less secure position. Capello is an undoubted fan of the 28-year-old talents but is disappointed that at Wembley and in a fluid position in central midfield he was unable to work effectively with Lampard and impose himself. Indeed Gerrard is understood to have typified what Capello believed was a timid performance.
Five or six players disappointed the England manager, who had hoped for a better performance after the confidence that was reborn against Croatia. He was frustrated by the lack of movement and the refusal of some players to take responsibility. Again, there appeared to be a fear factor playing at Wembley. However, Capello accepts the Kazakhs were unusual opponents in that they were unknown, young and with a point to prove.
If Gerrard is left out it will be a severe blow to him but Capello is a pragmatist who will not think twice about making such a decision. He spent yesterday, as he will today, considering his options. He and his coaches examined DVDs of Belarus's recent performances and Capello is aware that they are a dangerous side with tricky, counter-attacking forwards.
Capello will also not simply give up on Gerrard. He knows the player's worth and regards him as world-class. But if he can secure a victory in Minsk it will, with four wins out of four, be England's best-ever start to a qualification campaign.
There are several injury concerns, although all of the players are expected to recover in time to fly out tomorrow to Belarus. The only doubt, of course, is John Terry and Capello is keen to give his captain every opportunity to recover from his back injury in time to play, especially as his understudy, Matthew Upson, was one of those who was unconvincing on Saturday.
It is hoped that Terry will take a full part in training with the rest of the squad today. If he does not, it is unlikely that he will board the plane. The chances are that he will make it after spending yesterday working with the England physiotherapist Gary Lewin, with some light running, work on a fixed bicycle and in the swimming pool. Capello urged Terry to take it easy.
Despite the disappointments of the performance, England are in a commanding position in Group Six – their goal difference is also very strong – with Capello confident that his team is developing. He also reiterated his faith in Wayne Rooney, who appeared frustrated at Wembley, as an "extraordinary player" and stated he is "better" when alongside Emile Heskey. "It is not going to be an easy game," he said of the Belarus match. "I have seen Belarus three times. They are a very good team. They played very well on each occasion."
The England squad rallied around Ashley Cole after the left-back was booed by sections of the crowd following his mistake which gifted Kazakhstan their goal at Wembley.
David Beckham, a second-half substitute, said: "There are mistakes in football and you definitely don't want to hear the fans boo a player like that, especially when you are at home.
"It's disappointing because the majority of the fans were great," he added. "But when you hear that aimed at one of the best left-backs, not just Europe but in the world, it's just not right."
Captain Rio Ferdinand went even further, claiming some supporters should be "ashamed of themselves" while Lampard, who has himself been targeted by some England fans in the past, admitted, that it makes it "a little bit tougher" to play in such circumstances.
He added: "If we want to make this place a fortress, then, a: we've got to play better and we've started to do that a bit but there's a long way to go for us, and, b: we need the crowd behind us."