Steve McClaren's brief honeymoon as England manager came to an official end Saturday with his side's goalless draw against Macedonia. McClaren, in fact, is facing some serious problems prior to a crunch tie against Croatia in Zagreb Wednesday - and regarding not only the quality of his team's play, but also the manning of his midfield.
McClaren will be without three of his four starting midfielders this week - Owen Hargreaves and Joe Cole are injured, and Steven Gerrard, following his yellow card against Macedonia, will be serving a one-game suspension. And if one takes into account that substitute Aaron Lennon is also nursing an injury, and that Frank Lampard, England's only regular starter who will be available Wednesday, hasn't scored for his country since before the World Cup, McClaren and his team are in trouble. And I haven't even said a word yet about Wayne Rooney's dismal form.
McClaren is well aware that the English passing game was simply non-existent against Macedonia. "We have to improve in a number of areas," the coach said after the game. "That was a below-par performance, and we have to bounce back on Wednesday... We must show character and resilience against Croatia. You could see in the faces of the players after the game that they want to put it right."
Character and resilience well and good, but without Stevie G and Lennon, and assuming David Beckham doesn't get a recall, McClaren cannot continue to build on Stewart Downing, his disappointing former charge from Middlesbrough. Shaun Wright-Phillips, who came on for Downing Saturday, may be McClaren's only reasonable option on the left side of the midfield.
Meanwhile, Croatia coach Slaven Bilic gave an interview yesterday to The Guardian and came down hard on the England team. "I saw them at the World Cup, and I couldn't believe it," Bilic said. "A bunch of talented players who played as individuals and not as a team. I have never seen England play so defensively. Worried? I have nothing to worry about from England; I am more worried about Andorra."
For those of you who have forgotten, Croatia crushed Andorra 7-0 Saturday night.
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