Wayne Rooney steps into England history in win over Switzerland
LONDON -- Three quick thoughts from England's 2-0 win over Switzerland in European Championship qualifying at Wembley on Tuesday night.
1. Rooney steps into history
There was a deep breath taken as destiny called. Granit Xhaka's hack on Raheem Sterling had given Wayne Rooney his chance from the penalty spot. The captain stepped up, his nerves holding as he blasted his shot into the net. Although Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer had guessed right, his hand could not stop Rooney hitting a half century of goals for his country, and his overtaking of Sir Bobby Charlton to become England's leading goal scorer of all time.
That came in the 84th minute. Before that it had looked like Rooney might have to wait until Estonia's visit next month, and Wembley had celebrated a goal by the man who should one day replace England's captain. Harry Kane's 67th-minute finish of England's best move of the match belied that of a player yet to score for Tottenham this season.
Victory continued Roy Hodgson's team's winning sequence of eight in eight matches from Euro qualifying in Group E but may have presented the England coach with the problem of having to squeeze in both his scorers, and thus go against the 4-3-3 formation Hodgson has lately settled on.
Rooney's first chance had come in the 17th minute. Bursting into the inside left channel from which he has scored many a right-footed goal, Rooney opened out his body, but while his shot was beyond Sommer, it also drifted beyond the post.
At such times, and in the type of space that he has found too rarely so far for Manchester United this season, Rooney looked happier playing for country than club, even if the weight of making history rested on him. When an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain cross looped toward Rooney in the 38th minute, Wembley, hardly packed to the rafters, gawped in expectation, only to realise that the ball was just too high for Rooney's forehead.
A header looked his likeliest route to 50 -- that or a penalty -- and a second-half Oxlade-Chamberlain cross from the byline arrowed toward Rooney but he could not get sufficient purchase or power to beat Sommer. The Swiss keeper also saved a snap shot on the turn from an increasing eager Rooney.
But then came his moment, gifted by Xhaka's tired hack. Rooney celebrated his achievement with understandable and worthy joy.
2. Barkley struggles to impose himself
Hodgson's team selection to face the country he took to the 1994 World Cup finals had looked conservative, with Ross Barkley benched in favour of Fabian Delph.
Delph, though, twanged his hamstring after just 30 seconds of action. This was a repeat of the injury suffered in Manchester City's preseason tour, and which had restricted him to just 17 minutes of Premier League action so far. His pain gave Barkley an instant chance to prove Hodgson wrong in dropping him after scoring his first England goal against San Marino on Saturday.
To win Hodgson's favour, Barkley needed to prove he could marry his innate energetic running in open space with defensive discipline and calm passing, rather than losing the ball as he buccaneered into blind alleys. None of the above quite happened for him and an early second-half chance did not get past the head of Swiss defender Timm Klose.
Meanwhile, the retention of Jonjo Shelvey was deserved for the Swansea man after he had been England's outstanding midfielder on Saturday against San Marino, although had probably been enforced by Michael Carrick's training-ground injury. Switzerland were never going to allow him anything like the same space to play long passes from his deep-lying midfield role, although Shelvey did produce a couple of pearling out-swingers to Oxlade-Chamberlain on the flank before being replaced by Kane on 57 minutes.
Raheem Sterling had sat out San Marino completely, so here was an opportunity for him to replicate the fine form he has shown at new club Man City, and from the left flank where Manuel Pellegrini plays him. Here, though, until late on, and the run that forced Rooney's penalty, he was well marshalled by the experience of Juventus' Stephan Lichtsteiner.
3. England's first-choice defence?
Following their selection in San Marino, John Stones and Phil Jagielka were benched in favour of what looks Hodgson's first-choice central defensive partnership of Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling. Although the Swiss offered more than San Marino's 7-2-1 formation, their attacks were mostly on the counter.
Both Xherdan Shaqiri and Josip Drmic made two first-half incisions between the Chelsea and Manchester United defenders, but never truly troubled the pair. The first was swept up by Joe Hart smothering the ball as the Stoke player charged in, and the second from the Borussia Monchengladbach player saw England's goalkeeper wave a wayward effort wide. Smalling, who had previously looked assured, took a booking in the second half when bringing down a speeding Shaqiri on the edge of England's box.
At full-back, Luke Shaw, possibly Man United's shining light of their stilted campaign so far, is beginning to look like a first-choice selection, after two excellent outings in England's last two internationals. He played just one England match last season, but he already looks to be ahead of Leighton Baines, who suffered at last year's World Cup; Kieran Gibbs, unable to win a place at Arsenal; and Southampton's Ryan Bertrand.
Shaw's pace continues to be his strongest asset, and it gets him out of trouble when caught out for positioning, as shown by his 78th-minute chasing down of Breel Embolo when the Swiss sub looked to have a clear run through on goal.
Shaw's part in Kane's goal was a show of his developing attacking quality, and that was not quite replicated on the other flank by Nathaniel Clyne. The Liverpool right-back looked a little edgy, especially when playing a heavy back-pass that had an angry Hart scrabbling to clear.
Of the four selected, Clyne looks the most in danger, and perhaps from Stones, who replaced him for Hodgson's final substitution and who possesses the level of talent that England's manager ought to be accommodating.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.