Fabio Capello retains faith in Frank Lampard as a key member of the England set‑up despite omitting him for the victory in Bulgaria last week, with the national manager contemplating recalling the midfielder for the Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales on Tuesday.
Lampard's impact last season was frustrated by a long-term groin injury but the 33-year-old has started only two of England's six Group G qualifying ties to date and was replaced at half-time in the second of those, against Switzerland in June. His omission from the team in Sofia last Friday, when he was afforded 10 minutes as a substitute, had suggested his 87-cap career was on the wane.
Yet the national management are understood to count him as a key performer who, fitness and qualification permitting, will have a major role to play at the tournament next summer. Indeed, there could yet be a swift recall for the game against Wales, with Capello considering a more attacking formation as England attempt to secure a first Wembley win in a year. Scott Parker and Gareth Barry, the defensive midfielders used in a 4-2-3-1 against Bulgaria, are one booking away from missing the potentially critical final tie against second-placed Montenegro.
While the system employed by Capello recently has not always easily accommodated Lampard, and despite the absence of the injured Steven Gerrard, there had arguably been less reliance placed upon the veteran given the emergence of Arsenal's Jack Wilshere since the debacle in South Africa. Yet the teenager will miss the remainder of England's Euro 2012 qualification campaign after his club confirmed he will be sidelined for two to three months with an ankle problem.
Wilshere endured discomfort in the joint for long periods last season and Arsène Wenger suggested the problem was exacerbated after the youngster was kicked on his ankle in the 2-2 draw with Switzerland. He subsequently broke down during a pre-season friendly against New York Red Bulls at the Emirates Cup and is now likely to be absent until November. "It's massively frustrating, even more so because I had a successful season [last year] and felt I could really push on," said Wilshere. "Hopefully I will be back as soon as possible."
Capello, who has released Darren Bent (groin) and Micah Richards (hamstring) to Aston Villa and Manchester City respectively, is expected to keep Wayne Rooney as his only central forward against Wales – some 75,000 tickets have been sold for the game – as he retains doubts about the Liverpool striker Andy Carroll's match fitness. The £35m forward started his club's first two Premier League games this season but was called from the bench in their last two games, against Exeter in the Carling Cup and Bolton Wanderers, still searching for the form that caught the eye with Newcastle United over the first half of last term.
The England manager has expressed concern in the past at the 22-year-old's lifestyle, saying in March that Carroll needed "to drink less", with the Italian hoping regular games at club level will spark the striker's form after a relatively sluggish start to his season. "He is probably not at the top [of his game]," said Capello. "I am choosing players in the best moment of form, but Andy didn't play the last games with Liverpool. Also, he is big. He needs to play games, games, games at the start of the season [to get into condition]. When these players, like Lampard, like Andy, are fit and at the top of their form, they will be important."
The squad had begun their preparations for the Wales tie by training at 11.30am on Saturday, eight hours after arriving back in the country from Bulgaria, with Rooney taking part fully on Sunday despite picking up a minor toe injury in Sofia. The Football Association is still awaiting a response from Uefa after Ashley Young, Ashley Cole and Theo Walcott were racially abused by sections of the Bulgarian crowd at the Vasil Levski stadium. The governing body is expected to respond on Monday.