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Why England’s great night was a disaster for Van Gaal

One of the curious things about Arsenal’s purchase of Danny Welbeck on transfer deadline day was the realisation that while searching for a genuine centre-forward, they had in fact signed another versatile player who can play across the front.

Danny Welbeck
Danny Welbeck

However, with Olivier Giroud sidelined for some time, it seems Welbeck will get a rare run of games in a central position with his new club – and in Basel he showed he is ready to make the most of that chance, having been used out wide too often by Manchester United.

The majority of his appearances for England have come on the left too, but a brace against Switzerland while operating as one of a front two with Rooney allowed Welbeck to showcase the finishing that Arsenal will be heavily reliant on in the months to come. After all, anyone can score a goal when they meet a cross perfectly; it takes proper poacher’s instinct to guide it into the net off your shin.

On this performance, Arsene Wenger will be optimistic about the impact of his new man, and Louis van Gaal might be cursing his decision to let Welbeck join a direct rival.

This was the first time England had played with a genuine front two for the first time since their listless Euro 2012 exit at the hands of Italy, which saw Welbeck and Rooney used in conjunction with each other. Hodgson also used two up front in a friendly against Ireland in the summer of 2013 – prompting Gary Lineker to bemoan “a step back to the dark ages of two lines of four”.

This, however, was different. Sterling looked born to play in the No. 10 role he has become used to atLiverpool, working behind Rooney and Welbeck and operating between the lines. It wasn’t perfect, but it was promising to see all three combine for the opening goal after 59 minutes as Rooney slipped in Sterling, who crossed for Welbeck.

After the dismal display against Norway, this atypical switch of formation from Roy Hodgson deserves to be persisted with as the qualifying campaign continues.

 

A hugely impressive 2-0 win away against Switzerland to start Euro 2016 qualifying was perfectly timed for the England manager. After the Norway match, and Hodgson’s now infamous expletives, it had seemed his relationship with the press had soured quickly, while Hodgson even admitted having sensed a cooling off among the general population.

After Norway, it was said the manager’s negative demeanour and approach were hurting England. Yet he turned that perception on its head on Monday ngiht by adopting a brave approach away from home against a team ranked above his in FIFA’s standings. By showing his tactical flexibility and deploying a new-look midfield, Hodgson was rewarded with an excellent display and a win which goes a long way to confirming England’s place in the finals.

 

The surprise element in England’s team was the inclusion of Fabian Delph from the start, with the midfielder being rewarded for his consistently impressive form with Villa over the past 12 months. It took him just nine minutes to earn a booking though, having floored Valon Behrami with a poor challenge, and he then slid stupidly into Stephan Lichtsteiner. On 25 minutes Delph went perilously close to a second yellow but would be thankful another reckless slide did not make contact.

After overcoming this near-catastrophic start, however, Delph settled into his stride and linked up play nicely, combining well with Leighton Baines on the left. With some extremely diligent passing the Villa man did enough to suggest he can be a regular option for Hodgson in the post Lampard-Gerrard era.

On 70 minutes it seemed certain Switzerland would equalise when Josip Drmic, who looked suspiciously offside, raced through on goal and rounded Joe Hart. The Swiss striker went for the angled shot and hit it well, but Cahill, slid in with perfect timing to block the ball and prevent a certain goal. This was not a vintage defensive performance from England, with Phil Jones looking shaky at times as he performed at centre-back alongside Cahill, but the Chelsea man at least supplied a match-winning contribution when it was really required.

 

When Jack Wilshere picked out Rooney with a gorgeous, looping first-time pass over the top of the defence in the early stages, the captain produced a horrendous first touch which seemed to confirm all therecent criticism of a once boy wonder who appears to have regressed alarmingly. However, judged across the duration of the match this was a vastly improved performance from the Manchester United striker, who played his part in the goal and showed positive intent throughout.

Rooney is still not the player of old – perhaps he never will be, and perhaps he never really was – but this display proved that those calling for his demotion to the bench are doing so unjustly.

The future value of sterling has been thrown into doubt by the Scottish independence referendum, but there is no uncertainty about the future value of the currency’s footballing namesake. Liverpool’s thrilling young star will continue to command centre stage for the national team now that England have reshaped their team to accommodate him, and he is a persistent threat with his tireless running, brilliant dribbling and ability to pick out a pass.

His final product was lacking a touch – one glaring miss from a John Stones cross stood out, and his first-half performance was rather mixed – but Sterling is a player of rare talent who could go on to be one of England’s all-time greats. EuroSport

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