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Montenegro v England: impressive Phil Jones makes the case to play alongside John Terry in central defence

Phil Jones is putting pressure on Gary Cahill to partner John Terry in the centre of England’s defence for Friday’s final Euro 2012 qualifier in Montenegro.
imageAlthough Jones has yet to play for his country and Cahill has performed well as Terry’s partner in the last two qualifiers, it’s understood that England manager Fabio Capello is considering making a change.

The Italian discussed starting with the 19 year-old against Bulgaria last month before opting for Cahill, but has since hailed the Manchester United defender as “an incredible talent”.

Capello has considered playing Jones or Tottenham’s Kyle Walker at right-back but is believed to be ready to opt for the more experienced Phil Jagielka in that position.

It may depend on who plays on the right of midfield. If Capello selects Theo Walcott then he may want a more defensively-minded full-back to cope with the threat of Murko Vucinic. If he selects James Milner, who impressed in training on Wednesday, then he may go for the more attacking Walker. It appears unlikely that Capello will choose Micah Richards.

Jones’s progress has made a big impression on the England management and, although he might not play on Friday, he does have a bright international future and will feature in the two November friendlies that have been pencilled in – including one against Spain – should England qualify.

Cahill has struggled with Bolton Wanderers this season but Capello has not blamed him for his club’s plight. However Jones’s form has widened the manager’s options.

England are seriously considering a change of shape for the match, from which they need just a point to guarantee qualification for next summer’s tournament in Poland and Ukraine.

Capello has favoured a 4-2-3-1 line-up but is toying with reverting to 4-4-2 and starting with two strikers: Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck, probably, Darren Bent, possibly, or even Bobby Zamora.

The 24-strong England squad played a practice match – 20 minutes each way – and fly to Montenegro today. Frank Lampard is pushing for a starting place in the centre of midfield alongside the impressive Scott Parker.

Although Milner has played well in training and started the last match, the 1-0 victory at home to Wales, his long-term international future is in some doubt even though he is still just 25.

The midfielder may, unwittingly, have alluded to this on Wednesday when he said: “The squad is changing all the time. I look at it now and I see a lot of people I played under-21s football with and younger boys than me coming through, and we still have that great core of experienced players. It’s exciting times. I think the squad is changing a lot and we are moving forward and improving and hopefully we are developing as a team.”

Milner has been identified by England as one of the players still suffering from a dent to his confidence after last year’s World Cup disappointment.

However, Milner rejected suggestions that there is a problem for England when they play at home – or that they were not motivated enough prior to kick-off against the Welsh, as Capello suggested. “We’ve had some good performances at Wembley as well, so it’s not a mental thing,” he said.

“We need to make sure, next time, we put on a performance at Wembley and put this sort of talk to bed. We didn’t play how we know we could, and it was disappointing a few days after such a good performance in Bulgaria. But it’s a results business and the win was the most important thing. Ideally you’d like a performance with it.”

Milner’s career at Manchester City has been stop-start this season, partly because of injury but also from the competition for places. “It’s been frustrating,” Milner said. “I’ve played a couple of games and had a few injuries. It’s been difficult, but that’s football. Hopefully I can get fit and play more football and keep improving and stake a claim in the side.

“I wouldn’t say it’s daunting. It’s a pleasure to play with the good players we have at the club and the [competition] is very healthy for the team. There is competition all over the field and you know you have to play well to get your chance and stay in the team.”

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