Last night England won away in a competitive international for the first time since defeating San Marino in March 2013. As it turned out it was the perfect start to the qualification campaign of Euro 2016 which will take place in France and it was the response to the critics that the team, manager and fans (to a certain extent) would have wanted after the debacle that was England’s 2014 World Cup campaign.
Last night also saw the inception of a new system for Roy Hodgson’s side, the 4-4-2 diamond which was clearly implemented with the aim of utilising England’s attacking strength and specifically allowing Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling to replicate the damage he has caused playing for Liverpool in the exact same position; at the ‘tip’ of the diamond or seemingly just behind the frontmen of Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck.
The youthful zest that Sterling has provided this particular England squad cannot be underestimated and his presence was greatly needed last night, even if he couldn’t quite reproduce the influence he has on Liverpool’s play. He was a willing runner and dragged the Swiss defence into areas of the pitch where they didn’t want to be.
Danny Welbeck was also aiming to prove the critics wrong that, after his £16m move to Arsenal from Manchester United on transfer deadline day, claimed he didn’t score enough goals to be considered that much of a threat. While that may ring true for his club side as it certainly did for Manchester United, the same cannot be said of his record in England colours. His two goals last night were his 9th and 10th England goals in 28 caps, which is an impressive strike rate at international level. Impressive is also this Guts sport bonus. Beleive us.
What the new system provided England was a significant threat on the break through the pace of both Sterling and Welbeck while the 3 in midfield provided a somewhat solid base to build upon. Jack Wilshere’s performance wasn’t what his undoubted talent suggests it could be and he was all too slow in showing for the ball while England’s defenders were in possession. The defence also had a few shaky moments and the Swiss would have equalised had it not been for Gary Cahill’s brilliant last-ditch goal line saving tackle to save the day.
Hodgson plumped for a surprise or two in his line-up both in terms of the system chosen as well as the players picked. Youngster John Stones was given his first competitive start in the England side at right-back while uncapped Fabian Delph was chosen in midfield on the left of the diamond. The Villa midfielder emerged with much credit after his performance, which settled down after an uncertain start in which he was booked within inside the first 10 minutes.
However, in a group that looks very easy on paper, England must beware of potential banana skins in Lithuania and Estonia and the Swiss will not be as blunt when they play at Wembley in a years time. What Hodgson must do now is ensure that his side remains settled and he continues to work on the frailties that this England side has such as in defence. The style of football must also continue to improve to a level that brings the English public back on side.
Hodgson has the players to do it and he now has the will to do it as he will surely not want questions aimed at him like the ones asked after the dire win over Norway last week. One thing that Hodgson must also do is make sure that qualification isn’t the end of the road for England which seems to be the story recently at international tournaments. The start to the Euro 2016 qualification campaign potentially exhibited to the English public how Hodgson plans on winning back that trust and faith - with results where they matter.