Rooney relishes role in Capello's reconstruction of old England

New scheme gives Gerrard and Lampard roles that allow Manchester United powerhouse room to strike
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Every match has meaning for Fabio Capello, not least when Croatia are visiting on Wednesday in a game that will tell us much about how far England have come under their new coach. Capello's strong team selection for this friendly with Slovenia demonstrated how seriously he took this. But the true measure of England's progress under him comes on Wednesday and the visit of Croatia when England have a chance to clinch their place at next summer's World Cup finals and, at the same stroke, gain some revenge for their embarrassing 3-2 home defeat to the same opponents some 22 months ago.

The match should also go some way to showing whether Capello's men are potential world-beaters, against the side that accounted for his predecessor, Steve McClaren. The vision of the "wally with the brolly" is etched deep in the English psyche but England have changed much since that rain-sodden night.

Capello swiftly succeeded in his first goal of dispelling the anxiety that came from wearing an England shirt. Instead the fear comes from knowing you might be dropped for the next game if you don't perform. He then drew up his beloved 4-3-2-1 formation after his first couple of matches and has stuck with it. Players come in and out but the structure remains intact. Everyone knows their role and they have to stick to it.

For Frank Lampard, this has meant suppressing his attacking instincts and doing a bit more donkey work alongside Gareth Barry in front of the back four. For Steven Gerrard, Capello's plan has meant accepting greater positional discipline on patrol down the left side of England's midfield. Capello has asked England's two senior midfielders to play out of their preferred positions to leave the stage clear for Wayne Rooney.

The Italian has reconstructed his England side with virtually identical personnel to that used by his predecessor. This time however the 11 on the pitch know what they have to do and the star of the show is Rooney who no longer has to compete with Gerrard and Lampard for the same space just behind the lone striker, more often than not Emile Heskey.

The response has been akin to turning on a tap for Rooney who is enjoying his best scoring run for England. He should also have added a couple more. In the first half Mathew Upson's header fell at his feet from a corner, but from close range Rooney's shot found the post, not the net. Midway through the second Aaron Lennon teed him up but Matej Mavric cleared off the line. His last kick of the match was a half-volley from 40 yards that looped over the bar. No matter, he has proved his credentials and form with four goals in four Premier League games for Manchester United this season.

Part of Gerrard's remit on the left is to find Rooney as often as possible. The pair clearly enjoy playing in tandem and after 15 minutes a quick one-two between them forced England's first corner. The combination worked again on the half-hour to give England the lead. Gerrard crossed, Rooney tumbled after minimal contact with Slovenian defender Bostjan Cesar and Lampard converted the penalty.

Against Slovenia it was Rooney who also led the way squeezing down the space when their opponents had the ball, pressing the opposition into making mistakes. Capello made his changes at half-time and the fresh legs brought greater vigour. England's second was made in Tottenham as Lennon fed Jermain Defoe who finished with a deft shot from 25 yards.

England are still a work in progress and Slovenia, 54 in the world, caused embarrassment when Zlatan Ljubijankic scored with a header. The English defence is still prone to moments of confusion. Capello has made strides but the vision of the "wally with the brolly" has not yet totally vanished.