England's double jeopardy

Lampard and Gerrard have one more game to prove they can play in the same midfield.

England's Steven Gerrard (R) and Frank Lampard attend a team training session in London Colney, north of London October 7, 2008. England are due to play a World Cup 2010 qualifying soccer match against Kazakhstan in London on October 11, 2008.  REUTERS/ Eddie Keogh (BRITAIN)
Picture Supplied by Action Images *** Local Caption *** 2008-10-07T121636Z_01_EDY13_RTRIDSP_3_SOCCER-WORLD.jpg
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Saturday's World Cup qualifying match at Wembley Stadium may be the last time England supporters can watch two of their country's most influential players operating alongside each other in the same international line-up. It is probably the day of reckoning for what has frustratingly been a misfiring midfield partnership of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.

The Londoner Lampard has been as inspirational to Chelsea over the past seven years as Gerrard has been since breaking through the ranks at his native Liverpool a decade ago. Ask them to display their outstanding talents in tandem, however, and both seem to lose their way. It is no coincidence that England's finest performance in recent times - an unexpectedly emphatic 4-1 triumph over Croatia in Zagreb last month - came about in the injury-enforced absence of one of them, Gerrard.

Lampard excelled that night under the greater responsibility of being his country's midfield general. Gerrard has also produced his better international displays when he becomes the kingpin in the centre of the park because of Lampard's unavailability. Fabio Capello, the new England head coach, has never been frightened to make key decisions during an illustrious career in Spain and his native Italy, and after starting his new job with two victories will not be challenged if he comes to the conclusion after his third competitive match in charge - the Group Six encounter with Khazakstan - that the Stamford Bridge-Anfield alliance does not work. If Capello turns out to be dissatisfied with the way his two most valuable midfielders combine against Khazakstan, he is likely to dispense with one of them for what looks a more demanding away fixture in Belarus next Wednesday. But which one?

Both are in contention to be footballer of the year domestically, so if one has to be jettisoned from the international ranks for the overall benefit of the nation it will be a topic of intense debate, and not just in England. Lampard, who has represented his country 61 times compared to Gerrard's 67, is aware that his failure to forge an effective link with the Liverpool captain is becoming a threat to both under the watchful, experienced eye of Capello.

"We both want to be at our best for England and will probably say that, for the last couple of years, we haven't done that," said Lampard. "Everyone is trying to find the solution but it's not just me and Steven, it's the whole team." Lampard, who pointed out that he and Gerrard are the best of friends off the pitch, added: "There are times in any partnership when it works and when it doesn't, but sometimes we look into the wrong issues.

"It's not about individuals. We are breaking it down much too much at the moment. What's important is getting results and not trying to find issues with certain players." England are likely to go into the match without another of Chelsea's inspirational figures, John Terry, who at the start of the qualifying campaign was awarded the captain's armband in what was a tight battle with Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand.

Ferdinand is set to be given the job again against Khazakstan if, as expected, Terry is ruled out with a back injury, and that would represent a significant double for the Old Trafford club after their midfielder Darren Fletcher was named Scotland's captain against Norway in the absence of Barry Ferguson and Stephen McManus. @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae