England were given a training ground lesson in patient football yesterday, when possession and careful passing were the order of the day, and Sven Goran Eriksson will hope the changes against Sweden tomorrow will eradicate the errors of last week. Wayne Rooney is back and Owen Hargreaves takes Steven Gerrard's place as England experiment once again with the concept of a holding midfielder.
Possession, passing and a build-up that does not rely on long punts forward will be exactly what Michael Owen was hoping for as he looks for his first goal of these World Cup finals. The Newcastle striker said yesterday that he hoped Rooney's return would reduce the number of speculative passes sent up towards Peter Crouch - "I need the ball in the box to come alive," was the message from England's leading current goalscorer.
Eriksson took the unusual step yesterday of officially announcing that Rooney would be in the side to face Sweden in Cologne tomorrow, and it is understood that Hargreaves will take the place of Gerrard, who is dangerously placed on a yellow card.
But it is the shape of the team that may take some by surprise and is likely to raise the question once again of whether Eriksson yet knows England's best formation.
The Swede is also understood to be toying with the idea of giving Frank Lampard a rest and deploying Jermaine Jenas alongside Hargreaves, although other members of his backroom staff have urged caution. The Tottenham midfielder has not had a minute of World Cup football yet and, with England and Sweden both qualified for the next stage this may also be Eriksson's last chance to blood 17-year-old Theo Walcott.
Switching to a narrow diamond formation, he is expected to play Hargreaves as the defensive midfielder with, probably, Frank Lampard to the left and David Beckham on the right, which will give Joe Cole a more liberated role behind Rooney and Owen. In training, in a session led by Steve McClaren, who will replace Eriksson as manager after the World Cup, the emphasis was on patience in possession - a virtue England have been sorely lacking of late.
The players were told in no uncertain terms that the aimless long balls, and profligacy in possession, during the Trinidad & Tobago game, which England struggled to win last Thursday, would not be tolerated this time. A lot of the build-up was channelled through Rio Ferdinand, who is expected to have greater responsibility in directing and initiating England's movement.
For Owen, the new team shape is sure to be crucial. With Rooney alongside him, it would appear that Eriksson hopes the 26-year-old will recapture some of the form that has eluded him since breaking a metatarsal bone on New Year's Eve.
Owen said: "You would think there would not be as many longer balls because Wayne and myself are not that tall. It may encourage players to keep it on the deck a bit more. I am as sharp as normal, but you are just not seeing it. We are not firing on all cylinders and I am the person who takes most of the brunt if we are not playing well.
"As I said after Trinidad, there is no point in me changing my game to try something different. If we are playing well, then I will look as good as I have ever done," he said. It is just a case of us passing the ball and getting into the right areas for me to come alive. I have never been a player to score from outside the box or my own half.
"It is plain and simple. We have not been getting the ball in the right areas. It is a large part of my game to get in the last third and I need the ball in the box to come alive. I am totally reliant on my team-mates in that respect," Owen added. "We have not clicked as a team and if we don't click, I am the furthest forward player and will get less of the ball and bear the brunt of criticism."
Gary Neville's calf injury means that Jamie Carragher will be given his second run-out at right-back and Eriksson hopes he will also be able to find the time to give Aaron Lennon a role in the game. The Tottenham winger has been exceptional in England training sessions and McClaren, in particular, has been impressed with his development.
On Rooney, Eriksson said: "The medical people say he can play more than 45 minutes, so if that is the case then it is better he starts than he comes on. I'm very happy and he's very happy, and it's very good for England."
Rooney's club, Manchester United, are baffled as to why the two specialists who passed the forward fit intimated on Friday that they had never ruled him out for the group stage of the tournament after his 7 June scan.
The club issued a statement on that day - based on the advice of Professors Angus Wallace and Chris Moran - that Rooney had been told not to come back before 20 June.
Tomorrow's referee will be the Swiss official Massimo Busacca, who was the subject of Wayne Rooney's fury during England's 1-0 defeat to Northern Ireland in their 7 September World Cup qualifier.Reuse content