England interim manager Gareth Southgate has declared on the eve of the Wembley World Cup qualifier with Scotland that captain Wayne Rooney, whom he will restore to the side, is “freer in his mind,” and transformed from the individual who was dropped when the team last played.
Rooney has started Manchester United’s last two matches, at Fenerbahce and Swansea City, scoring in Turkey and supplying two goals in an impressive display in South Wales, leaving Southgate to observe that he had re-discovered the “flow of playing.”
Southgate, for whom a win on Friday night would almost certainly secure the manager's post permanently, said "game time" hed been crucial for Rooney. "He wasn’t in a flow of playing [before]. He has had more matches since [we were last together.] He had two 90 minutes last week, scored and had two assists. To my mind, even in his training, he looks freer in his mind, evening in training. That is an important place to be in order to perform.”
The FA's keenness to hand Southgate the manager's job is thought to stem in part from his impressive media appearances, at which he has conveyed a modern and intelligent image for the national team. But he has not yet delivered a wholly convincing performance while at the helm.
The 46-year-old's headache of whether to play Rooney has been removed by a knee injury sustained by Tottenham’s Dele Alli, allowing him to be slotted into the no 10 berth – probably behind Daniel Sturridge, with Harry Kane thought to be lacking match sharpness. It prevented another battery of questions about Rooney, on Friday.
“Class is permanent, isn’t it?” said Southgate, who brought Rooney on for the last 17 minutes of the goalless draw in Slovenia, a month ago. “We all have moments as players where you have runs of games. Part of being a player is grinding out the difficult moments. There are matches and periods where you know you are not at your best. They are the games you have to grind out and play your part for the team. Then there are other games where things are happening more naturally. To me he looks like he is just heading into that period.
Rooney was not asked to deliver the usual pre-match captain’s press conference because of the interim manager’s wish to spread the press responsibilities around. Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson, who led the side in Ljubliana, spoke instead.
Southgate said the additional time he has had with the players since his emergency appointment after Sam Allardyce’s dismissal in the last international break had provided the players with “a bit more clarity on what we want to do with the ball” and in which areas of the pitch.
“We have talked about our goalscoring but I think there is good reason for that,” he said. “We have got to show more patience in our build up play. But also, I think when the opportunity is there to slide people in and play forward we have got to take it. We can’t just be a team that wants to keep the ball for the sake of it. We have got to be progressive. We have highlighted that in looking back at the last few matches. I also have to say that it will have been very difficult for them with three coaches in the last three matches, all with a different idea of how they want to play. I have got to be realistic about how they take that on board. But I sense there is more clarity this week from the training and the discussion that we have had.”
Liverpool’s Adam Lallana and Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling are likely to be brought back into the side after missing the Slovenia match through injury, with Eric Dier and Henderson thought to be set to maintain their central midfield partnership. Fitness doubts surround both Tottenham full-backs Danny Rose and Kyle Walker, with Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand and Liverpool’s Nathaniel Clyne standing by
England are unbeaten in 32 international qualifiers, having won 24 and drawn eight, but they lost their last competitive clash against Scotland back in 1999.
England (possible 4-2-3-1): Hart; Walker, Stones, Cahill, Rose; Henderson, Dier; Sterling, Rooney, Lallana; Sturridge.
Scotland (possible 4-1-2-3): Marshall; Paterson, Berra, Martin, Wallace; McArthur; Fletcher, Brown; Snodgrass, Martin, Ritchie.Reuse content