England go forward with Gerrard

FABIO CAPELLO intends to resist the temptation to partner Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard at the heart of England's midfield.

One of the central features of the vast improvement England have made under Capello has been the use of Gerrard in a more advanced role, allowing him to interchange with Wayne Rooney rather than staying back in tandem with the equally attack-minded Lampard.

However, with Gareth Barry's participation at the World Cup hanging in the balance and Lampard given the night off, Capello was forced to drag Gerrard back during Monday night's 3-1 win over Mexico atWembley.

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Although England were in front at the break, it took Gerrard's presence in central midfield to bring a badly-needed element of stability to their second-half performance.

That fact probably explains why there has been no public clarification from the Football Association about whether Barry will be fit for duty in South Africa.

The 29-year-old saw a specialist as planned earlier yesterday and then returned to his club for further treatment, not the most encouraging sign.

However, as Capello's own stipulation is that the former Aston Villa man must be available for the Group C opener against the United States on June 12, there is still time.

Michael Carrick, James Milner and Tom Huddlestone struggled to impose themselves against Mexico, which may yet lead to Capello bending his own rules to get Barry on board, and while Gerrard would seem like an obvious choice for the Group C encounters with the United States, Algeria and Slovenia, it is not an option Capello wants to use.

"Steven is really dangerous when he gets close to the box," Capello said.

"If he has to play in the same position as the other midfielders he is good, but he is too far from the box.

"He has to get between two lines, the back four and the midfield.

That is where you go to shoot.

"I am lucky because his performance level is always high, but while I like to go forward you always need a holding player in front of the back four.

"Twice against Mexico they got the ball in front of the goal. This position is really important." It is why Barry's fitness is crucial to England as it would allow Capello to drop a midfield anchor alongside Lampard and give Gerrard the freedom he relishes.

Twelve months ago, Carrick would have been the automatic alternative.

However, since then his form at Manchester United dwindled to such an extent his Old Trafford future is in question, along with his place in Capello's final 23.

The failed attempt to lure Paul Scholes out of international retirement and talk of a possible inclusion for Owen Hargreaves, who has managed just one minute of senior action since October 2008, revealed Capello's private thoughts on the matter.

FIFA's complicated selection rules mean both men could yet be approached should anyone from Capello's final 23 withdraw, although far more likely is an opportunity being given to West Ham's Scott Parker during Sunday's friendly against Japan in Graz.

One player not giving cause for concern is Peter Crouch.

Another goal, albeit a scruffy one, on Monday took his England tally to an amazing 21 in 38 appearances, placing him joint 16th on the all-time rankings, level with Kevin Keegan and Mick Channon, who both took longer to get there.

At the very least, Crouch's form is providing Capello with reason to pause for thought over a previously- expressed desire to name Emile Heskey as his main striker because the Aston Villa man gets so much out of Rooney.

"I don't have an order," Capello insisted when asked whether Crouch was now ahead of Heskey in the battle to partner Rooney. "I have to decide which players can play.

"We have different choices. If you play with Crouch you have to have one style. If you play with the others like Jermain Defoe or Heskey you can play another one." Capello has confirmed Ledley King will not be involved against Japan after completing the full 90 minutes on his return from a three-year international exile.

Lampard, John Terry and Ashley Cole are certain starters at the weekend, with David James also likely to get some involvement.

However, the fifth FA Cup finalist in England's party, Joe Cole, is less certain of his place, even if Monday's performance lacked the guile he is capable of providing.