1. Whittle down players
Jack Rodwell last night became the 39th player used by Roy Hodgson in the five friendlies played this season. A new manager inevitably wants to take a look at all options, and Hodgson has had to dredge deeply into England’s limited talent pool because of withdrawals, but it is time to narrow down the candidates for a place at Brazil 2014.
It would take a dramatic revival on form for Adam Johnson to figure, while Carl Jenkinson, Jake Livermore, Tom Huddlestone, Stephen Caulker and Ryan Shawcross are unlikely to make it. Others, such as Raheem Sterling and Ryan Bertrand appear to have been blooded with a view to the long-term future. What, though, to make of Leon Osman who impressed in his one outing against Sweden but has been absent since?
2. Rooney remains key player
His club form may be patchy, and some observers seem to expect him to score a hat-trick every game, but seven goals in the last seven matches underline Rooney's importance to an England side which often finds it hard to score against decent opposition. Rooney, though, is much more than a goalscorer, he is also arguably England’s most creative player. Hodgson’s task is to find a position for Rooney which encourages this without losing his goal threat. Since bursting onto the scene (and being injured) in Euro 2004 Rooney’s tournament experiences have been unhappy. He will not lack for motivation in Brazil.
3. Hodgson is a Cahill fan
Gary Cahill is the only player to start all five friendlies and while the unavailability of rivals has inevitably been a factor in this Hodgson clearly likes the Chelsea defender. Being an ever-present in friendlies does not mean Cahill’s ticket is booked. He did not start a minute of England’s three most difficult fixtures this year - the World Cup qualifiers against Ukraine, Poland and Montenegro - which suggests Hodgson does not yet trust him. However, with John Terry and Rio Ferdinand out of the reckoning, Joleon Lescott out of favour at club level, and neither Phil Jones nor Chris Smalling able to nail down a regular place in Manchester United’s central defence there is a place available alongside Phil Jagielka. Hodgson is giving Cahill every chance to claim it.
4. Friendlies are needed
England play friendlies in large part because the FA need the cash to pay for Wembley, but international managers need them too. Club managers may complain about them but they are being hypocrites - no club goes into a season without a series of friendlies behind them despite having far more time on the training ground to work on structure and familiarity. Friendlies do lack competitive edge and the raft of withdrawals diminishes their value but last night’s match will have been enormously helpful to England. Hodgson and his players have earned good experience for next summer should they return to Brazil, and some of those who did not travel may fear for their place
5. We need to find our own method.
It is one thing to be out-passed by Brazil, it is another entirely to be unable to retain possession against Republic of Ireland. English players remain technically poor compared to the world elite and it is naïve to think we should try and ape Barcelona (whose best player is Argentine, not Spanish), or even Bayern Munich (whose flair is provided by Dutch and French wingers). However, English players do have strengths that go beyond ‘Dark Age’ kick-and-chase, they are resilient, and have a decent goalkeeper. That should enable England to remain competitive against technically better sides. If the defence can become more solid (the only clean sheets this season were against Moldova and San Marino) England ought to qualify for Brazil 2014 and provide a respectable display there.
England 2 Italy 1
Sweden 4 England 2
England 2 Brazil 1
England 1 Rep of Ireland 1
Brazil 2 England 2