I was a bit surprised that Shaun Wright-Phillips and Ledley King weren’t even in the standby list (although it’s subsequently turned out that King was injured anyway, and wouldn’t have made the squad even if provisionally picked). But the main list is a very risky selection by Sven’s standards, with a couple of out-and-out wingers in the squad as well as one player who hasn’t even had a Premiership game yet. My guess is that Sven is thinking that he doesn’t have enough good strikers if both Rooney and Owen are injured, so the plan B is to use Crouch as a lone striker in a Chelsea-style 4-3-3 formation where, as with the Blues, most of the goals will come from midfield.
In fact, he might even be thinking of 4-3-3 anyway, with Owen the lone striker and Walcott and Crouch available to come off the bench. The real question with that formation is where does Beckham fit into it – I think Carrick would make the best midfield anchor, with Joe Cole and Aaron Lennon playing wide. Beckham doesn’t get enough goals from open play to be one of the attacking midfielders in this setup, and last time he was used as the DMC it didn’t really work as he was far too prone to send long balls over the top instead of laying it off to Gerrard or Lampard. But Sven isn’t going to drop him, so either Beckham will need to be far more disciplined in the DMC role than he has been before or one of the AMC/R/L positions will have a non-scorer in it.
Basically, the problem Sven has is that England are short of decent strikers. Owen and Rooney are world class, but after that only Crouch has shown any real ability at international level and he’s not a prolific scorer by any means. So the team will be very dependent on attacking midfielders to get forward to support the strikers, with a strong likelihood that Lampard, Gerrard and Joe Cole will be the main source of goals. Packing the squad with cover for this trio, rather than backup strikers, seems a logical solution to the problem. It’s a gamble, yes, but it’s a positive one.
Sven could have played it safe and just gone for the second-best players in each position as cover for his first choice, but instead he’s chosen a different route and picked players who are untried but have a lot of potential. In that sense, it’s a win-or-bust selection. But then, that’s what Sven needs. He’s leaving anyway after the World Cup, so it makes no difference to him if England come bottom of the group stage or get defeated in the final – he has no need to worry about getting the sack for a poor performance, so preserving his job isn’t an issue. He has nothing to gain by coming second and nothing to lose by coming last, so he might as well risk it all on one spin of the wheel and gamble everything on coming first.