England vs Switzerland reaction: Roy Hodgson facing tough choices as Three Lions develop

England 2 Switzerland 0

Click to follow
The Independent Football

As Wembley stood to acclaim Wayne Rooney the mind went back 15 months to the steamy heat of Manaus and a night when England’s new record goalscorer was shunted out to the left-wing to make way for Daniel Sturridge as England opened their World Cup campaign.

Rooney made a goal that night, but it was scored by Sturridge, and the question began to asked whether Rooney, not by nature a left-winger, and with only one goal in seven appearances, still deserved a place in the team.

Rooney will be 30 next month, but no one doubts his place in the team now. In Brazil his response was to score in England’s next match, against Uruguay, and he has hardly stopped scoring since. Hodgson made clear his belief in Rooney when he appointed him captain after the World Cup and Rooney has blossomed with the responsibility. Last night’s historic goal was his 11th in 14 matches. Sturridge, meanwhile, has not played for England in this qualifying campaign nor scored since Manaus. At 26 he is no longer the coming man, that is Harry Kane who scored his second goal in successive matches last night.

How swiftly things change in football. That is a factor all international managers must keep very much in mind when team-building, especially when, as Hodgson has been doing, the planning lasts nearly two years.

The England manager has been selecting teams with a view to next summer’s European Championships ever since September last year when the opening match of the qualifiers,  England’s 3-1 win in Basel, all but ensured they would be in France. Now, though, the process is fully underway.

Rooney is certain to start but there are still places to be claimed. If everyone is fit (which history suggests they will not be) Joe Hart, Nathaniel Clyne, Gary Cahill, Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere and Raheem Sterling will probably also start with Michael Carrick as Wilshere’s understudy in the holding role. Which leaves at least four vacancies. Left back appears to be between Leighton Baines and Luke Shaw, though in this well-stocked but injury-prone department Kieran Gibbs and Ryan Bertrand have also played recently. In the centre Chris Smalling has edged ahead of Phil Jagielka and Phil Jones as Cahill’s preferred partner, but John Stones could pip them all.

The third midfield spot in Hodgson’s preferred 4-3-3, on the left, looked between James Milner and Fabian Delph but Jonjo Shelvey has emerged to challenge them. Further forward the choice is between Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s energy, Theo Walcott’s pace, Adam Lallana’s finesse, or Danny Welbeck’s ability to carry the ball and pop up with a goal. Add Harry Kane, Sturridge and Jamie Vardy and England seems brimming with attacking talent, and this is without addressing the question of how best to use Ross Barkley’s undoubted talent.

Last night Shaw, Smalling, Shelvey, Milner, Delph and Oxlade-Chamberlain were given first dabs. Shaw looks much sharper this season and impresses going forward but he frequently seemed too far away from Xherdan Shaqiri when the Stoke winger got possession. 

Delph’s evening was over almost before it had begun, and one wonders how whether he will get enough matches for Manchester City to justify being given many more chances. His departure meant a slight reshuffle with Barkley coming on and Shelvey dropping deep. This enabled the Swansea midfielder to enjoy plenty of space affording him the opportunity to spray the ball around like a quarter-back, but such was the congestion ahead of him his passing lacked penetration. Barkley, in the thick of that congestion, fared no better.

With the Swiss well-organised Oxlade-Chamberlain, on the right, struggled to find a way though (as did Sterling on the left). Indeed, the best first-half opportunities came from combinations by Milner and Rooney, though neither worried Yann Sommer in the Swiss goal.

Kane’s arrival enlivened the crowd and, underlining the experimental nature of the evening, gave Hodgson the chance to see how the attack worked with Rooney playing off him. Pretty well at first glance, as Kane drifted cleverly into a pocket of space to convert Shaw’s cross after Rooney had drawn the defence then played the full-back in.

Then, courtesy of some trickery by Sterling, came Rooney’s history-making moment. The disappointment of Manaus slipped further into the time’s shadows. Fifteen months is a long time in football, as the matchwinner that night, Mario Balotelli, knows even better than Rooney.