Belfast Telegraph

Wenger urges McClaren to pack midfield

By Chris Hatherall

Arsène Wenger has backed England to beat Croatia 2-0 in their crucial Euro 2008 qualifier tomorrow, provided Steve McClaren is brave enough to change his system.

One of the biggest decisions facing McClaren is whether to play Frank Lampard or Gareth Barry in midfield, and whether to stick by David Beckham. Wenger has studied the match as part of his role as ambassador for the Castrol Performance Index, a system which analyses the performances and effectiveness of players in the tournament, and the Arsenal manager's verdict is that England can secure a place in Austria and Switzerland next summer by playing all of them alongside Steven Gerrard in a five-man midfield.

"I believe in this kind of game, when you are a manager you are tempted to play with a little bit of security and take players who know what it means not to make a mistake," the Frenchman said. "Therefore experience has an advantage. I personally believe he will go with Gerrard, with Lampard and with Barry and Beckham.

"He will change his formation, for sure. And it's an important decision because I believe that's the best way to be tight defensively without losing too much of his potential to go forward.

"He still has players in central midfield like Gerrard and Lampard who give you hope of scoring a goal. Once England have scored then Croatia must score twice to knock them out, so you must still go into the game trying to score.

"I know England have most often used 4-4-2, but I feel there could be an innovation on Wednesday. But I'm not Steve McClaren and I leave that choice to him," the Arsenal manager said.

"I personally think it will be 2-0 to England. That will put them top of the group and then you cannot say they have underachieved."

Wenger believes Croatia's statistics prove they will be a tough opponent at Wembley and should not be underestimated. He added: "From the outside it looks as if England has an easy task – but it's not. There are only two factors when a team has nothing to play for: are they very easy to play or are they extremely difficult to play? I would be tempted towards the second solution.

"Croatia just lost a game but are still qualified. There is no special pressure and Wembley has a special aura in the whole of Europe. Nobody wants to miss that kind of opportunity to play a good game. I think it is a very dangerous game for England.

"Also you cannot go into a game like this only trying to draw it, you cannot give that kind of message to your players. So you have to prepare the game like you want to win it but knowing that a point is enough."

Belfast Telegraph


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