England business resumes with visit of Ukraine

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It increasingly seems that with Sven-Göran Eriksson there are only two stories sex scandals and the debate over how he will deal with England's deficiency on the left side of midfield.

The whole Faria Alam business having finally worn itself out, the focus on Tuesday turned back to the midfield he will field against Ukraine in Wednesday night's friendly at St James' Park, and, in the longer term, in the World Cup qualifiers away to Austria and Poland next month.

Eriksson has not found any radical solution to the conundrum of the left, and will field Steven Gerrard there, with Nicky Butt returning to the centre of midfield alongside Frank Lampard, with David Beckham on the right.

“On paper, they are the four best English midfielders we can find,” Eriksson said on Tuesday. “Butt is back and he is fit. As the sitting man he's clever, a good passer, keeps it simple. But in the second half we are going to try something different.”

That, Eriksson hinted, will involve Kieron Dyer in a left-sided role, even if he is probably the last person Newcastle fans want to see after he apparently refused to play for them against Middlesbrough on Saturday. With Ledley King partnering John Terry in central defence, the only player who will be involved from the off who was not in Portugal will be Alan Smith. Given that Eriksson has said his starting line-up is what he believes to be his strongest, it would appear he no longer sees Michael Owen and Darius Vassell as a viable partnership.

Certainly had Smith rather than Vassell replaced Wayne Rooney in that quarter-final against Portugal in the summer is hard to imagine such a gap would have opened up between the forwards and a rapidly retreating midfield. “Smith is unselfish, a good target man, a fighter,” said Eriksson. Jermain Defoe is likely to be involved as a second-half substitute, but Emile Heskey withdrew from the squad on Tuesday with a tight hamstring, although he is expected to be fit for Birmingham's Premiership fixture against Chelsea on Saturday.

A crowd of only about 25,000 is expected. That in itself is a damning verdict of how fans saw the disappointment of Portugal, and there are sure to be those who are disappointed Eriksson has not made more changes. He insisted onb Tuesday that even David Beckham was not fireproof, but then admitted that he couldn't imagine there is anybody better for England's right. “In football if you lose it's very important not to just drop players,” he said. “You must have continuity.” The World Cup will be the judge of that.

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