England continued their perfect run in Euro 2012 qualification on Tuesday night with an impressive 3-1 win away to Switzerland. Before the match, a clash of world class club managers was touted as the main story line as Fabio Capello faced off against Ottmar Hitzfeld. Between the two, three Champions League trophies are shared, while a myriad of various domestic trophies, too many to count, are split between the two veteran managers. While England dominated the majority of the match with a few decent spells thrown in by Switzerland for good measure, here are a few observations that stuck out to me.
England are simply better than Switzerland. Not breaking much ground, but remember, it was Switzerland who were the only team to defeat eventual champions Spain during the World Cup this past summer. One couldn’t have blamed a weary England fan for being a tad bit nervous heading to Basel for what could have been a potential banana peel for the Three Lions.
When the match got down to brass tacks, it was Capello who simply boasted the better starting eleven and squad for that matter. Both teams set up in a similar formation, 4-4-2, with one forward dropping off in a more central advanced midfield role. England didn’t take long to exploit a weakness in the Swiss defense which was David Degen on the left side of midfield and Reto Zeigler at left back. Before Theo Walcott left the game on a stretcher, he was able to get at left back Zeigler on more than one occasion while it was Glenn Johnson from right back who also aided in England’s early attacks down the flank. In the 10th minute, Johnson found Rooney with a well timed cross for England’s opener.
England’s central defensive pairing of Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott were rarely bothered in the first half and held together tight when the Swiss were at their best. Maybe not tested to any extremes, but the former Everton partnership reunited on the international stage passed with flying colors.
Joe Hart is human after all. The wonder goal from Switzerland’s Xherdan Shaqiri was never going to be saved by any keeper in the world. It was a well timed brilliant strike from the 18 year old who was able to show his quality when England’s back line fell asleep for just a second. Excused for Shaqiri’s strike which he saw very late, Hart wasn’t quite his normal brilliant self yet didn’t commit anything close to a Robert Green type blunder England fans won’t soon forget from the World Cup.
On just a few occasions, Hart’s normally assured self seemed to lack confidence and was at times almost caught out because of his decision making. At only 23, no one can blame Hart thus far in his young international career. He’s only appeared a handful of times for the senior team and he’s yet to cost England a goal or points. Although Hart is easily the #1 in everyone’s book, he’s sure to make a mistake sooner or later. The real quality of Hart will be on display when England fans are able to see how he performs after a forgettable performance for England.
Wayne Rooney is best playing just behind a central striker, but can still score goals. Of course we knew this didn’t we? 34 goals in all competitions for Manchester United last season playing further up the pitch than ever before may have clouded thoughts on where Rooney is best played. Depends on what you want out of him really, goals or creating them? Is Rooney as complete an England player as there currently is? On Tuesday night, all of his footballing abilities were on display. He scored England’s first when Glen Johnson found him after a well timed run into the box, a natural striker’s ability. Yet he continually dropped back into midfield to pick up the ball in order to spread play further forward to Jermaine Defoe or to the wings through James Milner or Adam Johnson.
Maybe Rooney had something to prove with all the off-the-field hype concerning his private life, or maybe his recent dip in form has sparked him to prove his critics wrong on the pitch. Whatever the reason, or whether he’s creating goals or scoring them, Rooney is most effective when he’s involved in build up play. Whether he picks out a killer ball or scores from a movement he’s had a large hand in, Rooney is best just behind a central striker but always a dangerous goal scoring threat.
Adam Johnson and not Theo Walcott is the answer to England’s right side of midfield. He doesn’t quite have the explosive pace that Walcott does, but he’s more effective than the Arsenal winger and a better decision maker. Still young in his England career, Johnson is the type of player who embodies someone who’s about to make something happen. Upon his entry into the match after Walcott’s injury, Johnson showed his class by touching the ball out to himself and spinning around the aforementioned Ziegler who surely must now be happy he’s done facing England’s right side. Johnson crossed into Defoe who should have done better, but it took just a few seconds for Johnson to leave his stamp on a game he just entered into. Johnson’s also a quality finisher as he showed with his second half 69th minute goal. He narrowly avoided being caught offside and was found by Steven Gerrard when he cut into the middle from the right and side stepped the keeper to slot home.
England can pass the ball after all. Was it just me, or did England seem to almost ping the ball around the pitch with a bit of swagger? After all the hoopla concerning their tired performance in South Africa, this new look England seems to have rediscovered their mojo as the squad settle into a new season of club football. England played with confidence, little to no fear and dominated possession against the Swiss while they fairly easily broke down a Swiss defense once said to be difficult to penetrate.
Frank Lampard’s services were definitely not missed as a quiet and confident Steven Gerrard and Gareth Barry had their way in the center of the pitch while midfield foes Pirmin Schwegler and Gokhan Inler chased aimlessly.
The unconvinced will point to England’s ability to usually coast through qualification while they fail on the big stage at major tournaments. Yet this is an England squad only a few years removed from the dreadful qualification of Euro 2008, a tournament they failed to participate in. England fans must take the wins on Friday and Tuesday in stride and place them into the overall grand scheme of the England team within the past year. It’s been a great start to a new chapter in the England book, yet still a flawed script that hopefully ends rewarding.