England vs Slovenia: Five things we learnt from Wembley

England 3 Slovenia 1

Click to follow
The Independent Online

1. Wayne Rooney has joined England’s greats

The debate over whether Wayne Rooney has fully realised his potential on the international stage will continue for some time but becoming only the ninth man to reach 100 England caps puts him in the pantheon of the greats by definition. He is the youngest man to reach that milestone and although he has struggled to maintain the standards set in his debut tournament at Euro 2004, Rooney’s durability and commitment were rightly acknowledged tonight in the award of a golden cap from Sir Bobby Charlton.

His flash of quality to earn and then convert a 59 minute penalty was one of the few bright moments England created in the final third. Aged 29 - and now with 44 goals from 100 caps - Rooney has admitted Euro 2016 could be his last tournament and once the formality of qualification is completed, the Manchester United striker will have another chance to silence his doubters once and for all.

2. The NFL is good for the FA but not England

Last Sunday’s NFL game between Jacksonville Jaguars and Dallas Cowboys was the latest in a series of money-spinning matches for the Football Association but the effect on England was obvious from the outset. Aside from the faded branding “NFL INTERNATIONAL SERIES” still visible throughout this game, the playing surface was terrible, particularly in central areas.

England laboured in possession as players on both sides made individual errors on the ball. Hodgson had feared the worst before kick-off and he was proved right. The impressive crowd of 82,305 were desperately subdued throughout but they were given little to enthuse about until the game suddenly jolted into life with Jordan Henderson’s 57 minute own goal. England had problems in possession that could not solely be explained by the surface but it is difficult to conclude anything other than the NFL game not only made their task harder, but it damaged this as a spectacle.

3. England’s midfield diamond lacks width

Roy Hodgson has stuck with a midfield diamond system ever since using it to great effect as England won their crucial opening qualifier in Switzerland so it is safe to assume this is the shape he intends to use at Euro 2016. The benefits are that it makes England more compact against talented opponents but against teams that prioritise defending, the overt focus on attacking through central areas can make them predictable.

England’s travails against Estonia and San Marino were replicated here and compounded by the uneven surface. Although debutant Nathaniel Clyne and Kieran Gibbs tried to get forward from full-back - as the latter did to notable effect in the build up to England’s third goal - England were desperately poor in the first half due to a lack of width and benefitted from Slovenia tiring as the match wore on.

4. Welbeck has given Hodgson a welcome headache

Daniel Sturridge’s absence has been keenly felt at Liverpool but Danny Welbeck’s new lease of life at Arsenal has helped him thrive with England. Welbeck has started England’s last four matches and scored five times, the last of which killed this game as a contest and finished off a fine move involving a fine one-two with Raheem Sterling. Sturridge would expect to start England’s next competitive qualifier against Lithuania at the end of March, fitness pending, but while Welbeck is not consistently clinical in front of goal, his current form gives Hodgson food for thought.

Saido Berahino could also press his case against Scotland on Tuesday but he is obviously inexperienced and with Rickie Lambert struggling for game-time at Liverpool and Jermain Defoe apparently frozen out while in the United States, Welbeck has firmly established himself as Sturridge’s main rival to lead England’s attack.

5. Roll on the return of the Premier League

There is a degree of acceptance that England remain a work in progress and patience is necessary for Hodgson to cultivate a team capable of challenging at Euro 2016 but that does not excuse the fact this was another evening desperately short on entertainment.

Tuesday’s encounter against Scotland in Glasgow promises to be an occasion far higher in intensity given the obvious geography and history involved but aside from national bragging rights and 48 hours of referendum jokes, the domestic game’s return cannot come soon enough.

England have virtually qualified from Group E already with this victory and so there are likely to be several more nights like this to come. Hodgson has to prove it will all be worth it in France in two years’ time.

Comments