• England

Time to split up the Lampard-Gerrard partnership

John Brewin
October 13, 2013
ESPN FC: England edge closer

Roy Hodgson makes for an unlikely gambler, but he got his just reward on Friday. Andros Townsend, with barely a handful of Spurs first-team games to his name, was his Montenegro match winner.

In post-match, it was difficult to recall a player who had made such a significant contribution on his England debut. The eventual consensus was that the last to do so was Glenn Hoddle with his blockbusting goal against Bulgaria way back in 1979, in a qualifier for the 1980 European Championship. Back then, Hodgson was coaching in Sweden, itself a reminder in a week of frenzied debate that even England's coach has enjoyed his fair share of foreign influence.

Hodgson, then, a nerves-of-steel roller of the dice. Who knew? He was certainly happy to bask in his newfound reputation for taking the big decision when it mattered. Whether he sticks or twists against Poland is the next burning question. Only a win will do to avoid the potentially unseeded uncertainty of the playoffs, and against a team that possesses more talent than a severely understrength Montenegro.

Hodgson becoming a progressive coach at 66 seems unlikely at best, but that does not preclude making cutthroat decisions when it matters. Putting the moribund partnership of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard out of its misery would be a start -- and a popular one, too.

Lampard has to be the fall guy on Tuesday. Of the pair, neither of whom particularly convinced as England struggled to force an opening goal, it was the Chelsea man who looked the more affected by time's inevitable passage. One particular first-half stray pass registered as a brain-melt; it was only the slowness of Montenegro's counter that did not make it a more dangerous error.

The pair's understanding with each other has always been less telepathy, more indifference. Their 59th pairing together in an international was as unconvincing as it had ever been. There must be no 60th. At times, there was a gap that Wayne Rooney, a reluctant midfielder as he revealed last week, found himself covering to clear danger.

It was noticeable that England's creativity increased once Michael Carrick replaced Lampard. The game might have become more open as Montenegro chased an equaliser, but the passes that found Rooney, Townsend, Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge were noticeably crisper than before.

Neither Gerrard nor Lampard is as accurate a passer as Manchester United's anchorman, and neither is as experienced in his role at the base of midfield, either. Lampard's game, until his recent reinvention, was always based around his long-distance runner's stamina and an ability to find his way into scoring positions.

On Friday, he seemed landlocked, his contribution to attack far inferior to that of Gerrard. Chelsea's season has been stop-start, with Lampard's contribution far less crucial than it used to be in Jose Mourinho's previous reign.

After being heavily linked with a move to Major League Soccer, one of the reported reasons for Lampard's extension of his long stay at Chelsea in May was to keep himself in view of Hodgson, who had stated his disinterest in players who ply their trade in a different continent. It would represent no little irony if Lampard were to miss out on a World Cup place even after staying on at Chelsea. On current form, it might be deserved, too, even if it is still difficult to believe that Hodgson could make such a swingeing cut.

Gerrard has not retained the vigour of his peak years, either. The spate of career-threatening injuries that he suffered during the 2010-11 season took away the all-action drive that made him one of the most admired players in Europe. His own reinvention into measured elder statesman with an unwavering hand on the tiller has hardly been smooth.

Despite their fine start to the season, Liverpool still have some questions raised against them. The midfield trio that Brendan Rodgers favours have often struggled for understanding. Gerrard and Lucas would seem to be operating in rather too similar areas of the field, while Jordan Henderson provides the energy. They may top the table, but are, aside from beating a punchless Manchester United at Anfield, yet to face a truly credible contender for a top-four place.

The League Cup visit to Old Trafford exhibited worrying signs. A scratch midfield pairing of Ryan Giggs and Phil Jones held off Liverpool's first-choice trio, and especially in the second half. Giggs, almost seven years older than Gerrard, looked much the fresher as the game went on. It was almost impossible to imagine Gerrard still pulling the strings when he nears his 40th birthday. Indeed, as he closes in on the international appearance records of Bobby Moore and David Beckham, it is difficult to see him making any other decision than retirement once England's participation in the 2014 World Cup is completed.

Time and age provide the obvious reasons Hodgson must take steps and break up this extensively-tried-and-not-to-be-trusted partnership, even if his natural instincts might go against such a step. One must go, and Lampard is that man for now, while Gerrard should not be the untouchable that Hodgson has made him. It is clear that one product of advancing years has been to offer Gerrard the maturity to dutifully serve as Hodgson's lieutenant. Such support for the manager has made him undroppable.

Jack Wilshere may be in rather lacklustre club form but can surely provide the energy and mileage that his senior colleagues no longer can. And there is little doubt about what Carrick consistently brings to the party: a calm and precision that neither Lampard nor Gerrard offered enough of against Montenegro. Either, or both, have to start on Tuesday.

Footballers cannot live on reputations forever, and neither can managers - a lesson that Hodgson would do well to heed. He must continue his shuffling of the pack. Drop Lampard now, and begin thinking about life after Gerrard, too.

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