So, the first international break of the new season is upon us and as inconvenient as it is to the Premier League, there is always an anxious and nervous anticipation to England's Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, with this fixture against Bulgaria to be no different. Level on points atop group G with Montenegro ahead of the game against Bulgaria tonight, England will get into a scrap for the automatic qualification spot if they drop points tonight and an away fixture against Bulgaria should be a tester. Although, England haven't dropped a point away from home in the qualifiers thus far and a 4-0 win in the reverse fixture at Wembley should bode well for the team. The real interest, naturally, lies in the call ups of Manchester United's rising stars Tom Cleverley and Phil Jones to the England senior squad to give United 5 faces who could face Bulgaria.
For me, Tom Cleverley is what England have been missing. We could talk about battling midfielders, dazzling wingers or clinical strikers all we want but ever since Capello has been manager, England have been re-gurgitating a midfield pairing from Carrick/Barry/Lampard/Gerrard and it well and truly stagnated at the World Cup in South Africa. In much the same fashion as United renewed and replaced this summer, now is the time for England to do the same. The rise of Jack Wilshere means that Barry can piss off, the sooner the better and with Gerrard still out injured and Lampard coming to the end of his England career, it is the time for Tom to shine. I am a big fan of Tom and since following him in the U21's this year, he has shown great progress and maturity in how he has coped with starting for United. Having completed the most passes for United this year, his passing range and forward drives have been matched by his defensive capabilities and he is quickly showing all the assets of a world class midfielder, the typical box-to-box player that we crave. Will he start tonight? Probably not, this is Fabio Capello we are talking about but I would expect him to get 30 minutes and earn his first senior cap for England.
As for Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, they both received great accolades for their performances in the U21's as the central defensive pairing, showing a knowledge and understanding of each other's games that normally comes after a few years playing together. They brought their partnership to United and although Smalling has been playing out as right back instead of partnering Jones, they have cemented themselves as fantastic defenders early on in their United careers in the absence of the 'Old Guard' of Vidic and Ferdinand, who were injured at the time. John Terry has openly sung their praises and it is rumoured that Capello prefers Smalling to Richards, so with Ferdinand not fully fit we may see both the young lads start and how deserved it will be. Jones looks all the part like the £18 million we paid for this summer was a bargain and although Sir Bobby Charlton's comparison to Duncan Edwards might be early, it is a testament to the ability that those in United feel the lad has. I fully expect both of these players to be part of the England fold for years to come and hopefully both can get their playing time in Sofia tonight.
Now that Rooney has re-kindled his goalscoring fire, Capello will be a happy man. This season has seen a rebirth of Rooney and he has had a barnstorming start to the season scoring 5 goals in his first 3 Premier League games, already nearly half of his total of 11 goals last season. England need their star man to deliver in the next few years if we are to have any chance of competing in international tournaments and with his new hair line, Rooney has transferred his confidence into the right place and is quickly becoming the best number 10 in the world, dictating play and dominating opposition with his fiery displays. Will he score tonight? I would pretty much bet my house on it. As it is with most sports, confidence plays a massive part in the ability of a football player and Rooney is red hot right now, thanks in no part to the 8-2 drubbing of Arsenal at Old Trafford last weekend and with 2 games in 2 weeks for England, Capello will be hoping that Rooney will indeed continue his goalscoring form.
How do I see the game panning out? Although England stomped to a 4-0 victory in Wembley against Bulgaria, playing away internationally is always a different kettle of fish. England do seem to prefer it though as they can avoid the beady eyes of expectant Wembley fans but away games can always pose problems. For me, however, as long as Capello doesn't play 4-4-2 then I can't see anything but an English victory tonight. The great start to the season for United and City should transfer onto the pitch for England and with Hart between the sticks, it is nice to have confidence in an English goalkeeper (it doesn't happen very often). Although, saying this, England are prone to a mistake or two in a game and I think Bulgaria will snatch a goal but England should be able to knock 3 in with Rooney grabbing a brace. Come on England - don't disappoint me...again.