England vs San Marino analysis: Five things we learnt, including James Milner and Jack Wilshere can mix it up

Analysis from the 5-0 win at Wembley

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The Independent Football

Nothing builds momentum like the opening goal

Even in games like this, good fortune and the first goal help and England were certainly settled by their opener, and perhaps fortunate that the Polish referee Marcin Borski did not disallow it. The San Marino goalkeeper Simoncini Aldo Junior charged out to meet James Milner’s corner but tripped over a tangle of legs, belonging to Tosi Luca and Gary Cahill. More often than not, a goalkeeper on the ground means that a foul is given but Borski was brave enough to let play continue, and the rest is history. It is worth wondering, though, what might have happened had Cahill been penalised, and the game rolled slowly on to half-time with the scores still level.

Rooney responds well  to responsibility

The problem with playing this sort of game is that it is very difficult to assess England’s performance independently of the absolute poverty of the opposition. There was one moment, though, when the opposition were irrelevant: Wayne Rooney’s penalty. Given the pressure of captaincy, of expectation, of the goalscoring record, of recent poor performances for club and country, Rooney might not have enjoyed the responsibility from 12 yards.

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But his penalty was perfectly struck, into the far top corner of the net, beyond the reach of Aldo Junior. A top-flight goalkeeper – Aldo Junior is semi-professional – would not have had much of a chance either. Of course, it was just a penalty, and against San Marino, but it meant more than most of the “open play”.

Oxlade-Chamberlain wide worth more than diamonds

If there is a drawback with a diamond midfield it is that it can be restrictively narrow, especially if the two shuttling midfielders are traditionally central players. England did not exactly need more width at the start of the second half but they got some, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replacing Jordan Henderson.

The improvement was quick. With almost his first real involvement, Oxlade-Chamberlain won the ball from left-back Battistini Manuel, pushed to the byline and whipped in a low cross, which Danny Welbeck converted. Of course, it was not a game-changing moment but it did at least show fairly sharply the benefit of having a winger rather than a midfielder in that particular role.

 

Wembley’s glass looks better half-full these days

It was not one of the great Wembley nights, nor was it ever going to be, but there were more people here than might have been expected, and a better feel too. The official attendance was 55,990 and, even that did not feel excessively optimistic, the ground was certainly more than half-full. Given that only Arsenal and Manchester United regularly draw more than that, it is nothing to be sniffed at and says something about the loyalty of a public who could have been forgiven for staying away.

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What has been even more surprising in recent months, though, is the lack of obvious anger from the England fans towards the team, far away from the vindictive booing that was a feature when England were better. Low expectations do have an upside.

Hodgson is able to mix and match Milner and Wilshere

The use of Jack Wilshere and James Milner pointed to England’s thinking about their place within the diamond. When England won in Switzerland last month, it was with Wilshere playing an unlikely role. Given his pace and occasional recklessness, it was a surprising choice although Wilshere did it fairly well.

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Last night, Roy Hodgson started with James Milner sitting instead, with Wilshere free to shuttle to his left. In the second half, Wilshere returned to the deep role and Milner provided the legs. It did not matter, but it might against Scotland and Slovenia.

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