Marcus Rashford proves his worth, leading patchy England to win over Swiss
LEICESTER, England -- Three quick thoughts from England's 1-0 friendly win over Switzerland at the King Power Stadium on Tuesday.
1. Rashford shows worth to patchy England
Marcus Rashford went into the international break under a cloud, after being red-carded for rashly lowering his head into Phil Bardsley's face during Manchester United's 2-0 win at Burnley, but he emerges from it as one of the few players to have scored points -- and the only one to have scored any goals -- for England.
The 20-year-old was England's goal scorer in their 2-1 loss to Spain in their Nations League opener at Wembley, and he was the match-winner for Gareth Southgate's men against Switzerland, ghosting in at the back post to apply a crisp volleyed finish to Kyle Walker's deep cross in the 54th minute.
Operating in support of Danny Welbeck at the sharp end of a 3-5-2 system, Rashford was England's liveliest player throughout, and looked their most likely source of a goal even before he netted for the fifth time in international football.
Rashford's strike put some gloss on what was a less-than-convincing performance by the World Cup semifinalists, which was typified by the jitters of goalkeeper Jack Butland. Clearly ill at ease with the ball at his feet, the Stoke man almost passed the ball into his own net in the sixth minute and his under-hit pass to James Tarkowski seconds later culminated in Xherdan Shaqiri hitting the post for the visitors.
Rashford aside, Danny Rose also caught the eye on England's left flank before giving way to local favourite Ben Chilwell, who made his international debut. But while there were some satisfactions -- among them a first clean sheet in four games -- England remain a work in progress.
2. Loftus-Cheek fails to provide midfield spark
Much of the talk in the aftermath of England's loss to Spain last Saturday focused on the lack of a world-class creative midfielder in the hosts' ranks, with Southgate opining afterwards that England have not produced such a player since Paul Gascoigne, who happened to be in attendance at the King Power Stadium on Tuesday.
With Dele Alli absent through injury and Jesse Lingard dropping to the bench, responsibility for giving shape to England's attacking ideas in midfield fell to Chelsea's Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Manchester City's Fabian Delph. Loftus-Cheek, who has become the canary in the mine for England's youth development pathway, had played only 33 minutes for Chelsea this season prior to kickoff, while Delph was making his first appearance of the campaign.
England struggled to get Loftus-Cheek on the ball in dangerous positions in the first half and when they did, he was unable to do much with it, often showing an inability to turn when presented with the ball with his back to goal. The 22-year-old produced one moment of quality, threading a pass down the right to Rashford, whose cross teed up Rose for an effort that forced Yann Sommer into his first meaningful save. Delph offered little forward thrust either, meaning that it was often left to Rashford to take the initiative by turning and running at the Swiss back three.
Although Loftus-Cheek did manage to work Sommer with a deflected effort from the edge of the box, by the time he made way for Lingard in the 62nd minute, he had done little to advance his cause.
3. Shaqiri sets tempo for slick Swiss
After the latest in a long succession of major tournament disappointments, Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic is attempting to give his side a makeover. Old stagers Valon Behrami and Gelson Fernandes both announced their international retirements after being left out of the current get-together, and fellow World Cup squad members Blerim Dzemaili and Josip Drmic were also overlooked.
Petkovic awarded debuts to three young players in Switzerland's crushing 6-0 win over Iceland in their Nations League opener -- right-back Kevin Mbabu, midfielder Djibril Sow and forward Albian Ajeti -- and although the team that lined up against England was more experienced, with 30-somethings Stephan Lichtsteiner and Johan Djourou coming into the starting XI, there was novelty in the Swiss tactical setup.
Seeking to match England's shape, Petkovic set Switzerland out in a new 3-5-1-1 system, with Shaqiri playing as a central playmaker -- as he had against Iceland, although in a 4-2-3-1 formation -- behind lone striker Mario Gavranovic.
The security provided by the presence of three central midfielders behind him enabled Shaqiri to roam wherever his little legs wished to carry him, and he popped up all over the pitch in the first half. England generally prevented him from taking up dangerous positions, but he came close to breaking the deadlock early on after Gavranovic robbed Tarkowski on the edge of the box.
Switzerland looked impressively assured on the ball, managing to find space in midfield in a manner that generally proved beyond England, and saw 65 percent of possession in the first half. The slickness of their passing did not translate into goal chances, but after their rout of Iceland, the spring in their step augurs well for next month's testing trip to Belgium in the Nations League.