Commentary

(Not-so-) friendly fire

Updated: November 22, 2010, 12:49 AM ET
By Michael Cox | Special to ESPN.com

Messi and NeymarGetty Images, Icon SMIBitter rivals Argentina and Brazil face off in the latest round of international friendlies.

Trying to make sense of all these international friendlies going on during the heart of the club season? Here are five key questions that will help provide some context.

1. Will Laurent Blanc start Yoann Gourcuff and Samir Nasri together when France faces England?

This was the question for the French manager Blanc ahead of last month's qualifiers against Romania and Luxembourg, and it's once again an issue, as France will face England at Wembley on Wednesday. Blanc played his cards close to his chest, telling the media, "If I judge that these two players deserve to be a part of that, then they will play. If I feel that there should only be one or neither, then I will do that, too." In the end, Gourcuff replaced Nasri in the second half of the Romania game before the two played the final half hour of the Luxembourg fixture together.

There is a suggestion that Gourcuff and Nasri are too similar in playing style to feature successfully in the same side, but Nasri sees no problems. "When you play alongside players who are technically minded like you, then there are always going to be similarities," he told reporters. If the two do start, Nasri's versatility will see him take up a wide-right role, with Gourcuff as a central playmaker.

2. Will Fabio Capello move England away from 4-4-2?

Many England fans were keen to see Wayne Rooney dropped from the side even before his controversial recent contract negotiations with Manchester United. With only one goal in the past calendar year in an England shirt, Rooney clearly has struggled. But he won't start against France because of injury. And with Jermain Defoe and Gabriel Agbonlahor both out as well, England manager Fabio Capello has a choice between Andy Carroll, Peter Crouch, Carlton Cole and Jay Bothroyd.

Capello has favored a strong, tall striker and quick, short striker approach so far as England boss, but all these strikers broadly fall into the former category. It's difficult to see two of them paired together. Therefore, Capello may decide to play a lone striker and beef up the midfield with another player in that zone, such as Arsenal wunderkind Jack Wilshere.

3. What will Mano Menezes do with his Brazilian side?

The new Brazil coach Menezes' primary strategy has been to declare a shift away from the unpopular reign of his predecessor, Dunga. Amazingly, only four players remain from the 23-man squad that went to South Africa: Robinho, Daniel Alves, Ramires and Thiago Silva. Menezes has called up young (Neymar) and old (Ronaldinho) in moves that have gone down very well with the Brazilian public, which expects victory with flair.

Menezes has stuck to a 4-2-3-1 system in his three games so far, but for the match against Argentina on Wednesday, he is without the striker who has started all three, Pato, and the central playmaker who has started the past two, Carlos Eduardo. A return for Ronaldinho could be in the cards, despite the fact he isn't getting into the Milan side at the moment, while young talents Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and Andre will all be hopeful of a starting place. Gremio playmaker Douglas, 28, is also in contention for what would be his first cap.

4. Will Javier Pastore start for Argentina?

The Palermo playmaker is possibly the hottest talent in European football at the moment and is fresh from a hat trick in the Sicilian derby against Catania this past weekend. Argentina manager Sergio Batista tried a 4-2-1-3 formation in his past friendly against Japan, and although that game ended in a disappointing 1-0 defeat, it seems Batista wants to play a system of un enganche y tres puntas (one playmaker and three forwards).

Against Japan, that playmaker was Andres D'Alessandro, but he was replaced with Pastore midway through the second half. Now seems the time to give Pastore his second start for his country and his first alongside Lionel Messi.

5. How will coach Cesare Prandelli cope without Antonio Cassano when Italy faces Romania?

Italy's main man seemed clear when Prandelli took over as manager after the World Cup. "Cassano has reached maturity now," Prandelli told reporters. "It is an extraordinary opportunity for him. His Azzurri adventure can be very consistent if he feels himself to be a protagonist and a focal point for his teammates." He and another troubled character were Prandelli's two hopes for the future. "The idea is to create a team around [Mario] Balotelli, Cassano and a center-forward."

Unfortunately, Cassano's disciplinary problems have not come to an end, and the forward is currently in the process of having his Sampdoria contract terminated after an extraordinary bust-up with president Riccardo Garrone. "I don't think it would have been right to call up a player who has been frozen out of his team for disciplinary reasons," Prandelli said. This could mean a chance for Giuseppe Rossi, the in-form New Jersey-born Villarreal forward, who is Cassano's most natural replacement.

Michael Cox is a freelance writer for ESPN.com. He also runs zonalmarking.net.

Michael Cox

ESPN.com writer