Uruguay v England: Wayne Rooney central role should punish rigid Uruguay

A tactical look at tonight's Group D encounter

From Tim Cahill to Mario Balotelli, it has been a theme of this World Cup that a country’s big players have delivered. That is the context in which Wayne Rooney is being judged. Having made England’s goal, found space for a good shooting chance himself, and covered more ground in the heat of Manaus than anyone else, it is hardly surprising he was unhappy at some of the criticism he received after the defeat to Italy. But he is being measured against the best.

LIVE: Follow the latest news as England play Uruguay, plus Colombia v Ivory Coast and Japan v Greece

Tonight he should have the chance to meet those high expectations. Rooney, it appears, will be back at the hub of the attack, in what is probably his best position. Rooney prefers to play centre-forward rather than No 10, but lacks real pace. What he does have is good vision and the passing range to take advantage of it, which is why many coaches have deployed him behind the main striker.

Tonight he should flourish there because Uruguay, unlike Italy, are likely to allow space in the hole to play.

It was extraordinary watching Uruguay against Costa Rica. At World Cup 2010 they were one of the most fluid teams going forward, able to adapt to the match situation with impressive tactical dexterity. On Saturday, strip out the World Cup trappings, and it could have been an English team from the 1980s.

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Uruguay played a rigid  4-4-2. The back four were square with the full-backs rarely venturing forward, the midfield flat and the front two often left detached and chasing long balls.

They cannot possibly be as poor again. Luis Suarez, whatever his match fitness, will make them less formulaic and more formidable going forward. However, Oscar Tabarez, Uruguay’s coach, only has one magician up his sleeve. Defensively, he must work with what he has.

That should be good news for Rooney and the rest of England’s attacking players. The Uruguay central defence lacks pace, and while Diego Lugano’s absence may temper that weakness, they will still be reluctant to push up against players as quick as Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Danny Welbeck. The midfield cannot go too deep or they will leave Suarez and Edinson Cavani isolated.

That will leave space to operate in between the lines for Rooney – or whoever plays at No 10, as Roy Hodgson’s England often rotate positionally.  He can pick up a pass from Steven Gerrard in deep midfield, turn, draw a defender, then slip a ball through for Sterling, Welbeck or Sturridge to sprint on to. If the central defenders sit off Rooney, he can shoot, and maybe score that elusive first World Cup goal.

It is possible that Tabarez, needing to win the game even more than Hodgson does, will tinker with his formation and play a diamond midfield with Diego Forlan or Nicolas Lodeiro at its head. That could mean Egidio Arevalo Rios dropping off to pick up Rooney, but one would still expect him to find the space to cause Uruguay problems.

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