Fabio Capello would have no problem handing Chris Smalling his England debut in Sofia on Friday night.

The Manchester United defender looks set to win the battle with Micah Richards and Phil Jagielka to fill the right-back role for the Euro 2012 qualifier against Bulgaria.

It is a bold move on Capello's part given Smalling had hardly any experience in the role before being tried out on United's pre-season tour of North America, then moving in permanently during the Community Shield and the Red Devils' three-match winning start to the new Barclays Premier League season.

Yet Capello could not be more gushing in his praise of the 21-year-old, who as recently as March 2008 was plying his trade in non-league football with Maidstone.

"He surprised me when he played at Wembley in the Community Shield against Manchester City," said Capello.

"He played well. In fact, the four games that he's played at right-back, he's played really well.

"I always saw him play in central defence before. He is playing with confidence. He has improved and improved."

Of the three United youngsters he brought with him to Bulgaria, Smalling seems the most likely to play.

Tom Cleverley will surely miss out on a central midfield role, where Capello has the experience of Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry and Scott Parker to call upon.

It is Phil Jones who could turn out to be the bolter, even if the more cautious part of Capello's mind points towards Bolton's Gary Cahill in central defence.

"Some are ready, some are probably a risk because they didn't play at this level in such important games with the national team," Capello said of the youngsters in his squad.

"When you play important games for your club, you know the players who play with you, their movement, where you receive the ball.

"Here it's different. You play with the other team-mates, but sometimes you are alone."

Theo Walcott, who has made his peace with the England coach over some pretty pointed remarks in his recently-released autobiography, and Stewart Downing will both be hopeful of starts, although Ashley Young is certain of selection somewhere.

Darren Bent's almost certain omission after he again missed training with a groin injury throws open the possibility of Young operating behind Wayne Rooney in attack.

However, Capello does have the option of choosing Liverpool's £35million frontman Andy Carroll ahead of Rooney, or Jermain Defoe, who scored a hat-trick when England put four past Bulgaria 12 months ago, part of a flying start to Group G that has been matched by Montenegro, who remain level on points with three games remaining.