England bounced back from their defeat to Spain with a 1-0 friendly win over Switzerland at King Power Stadium.
Marcus Rashford’s second-half strike proved enough for Gareth Southgate’s men to stop the rot of three successive defeats, keeping a clean sheet against a Swiss side fresh from thumping Iceland 6-0.
It was a night of little drama but Southgate will be relieved that, following an uncertain start to the game, his players rode the waves of Swiss pressure before Rashford provided the decisive moment.
Here are five things we learned from the game.
RLC & Delph midfield vision a non-starter
It’s been a difficult start to the season for Ruben Loftus-Cheek. After a productive loan spell at Crystal Palace last year, the midfielder is yet to break into Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea side.
Fabian Delph hasn’t featured for Manchester City either. Having deputised for Benjamin Mendy at left-back – rather efficiently, too, it should be said – the 28-year-old hasn’t featured for Pep Guardiola’s champions following the Frenchman’s return to fitness.
Both players were given a chance to impress for England, though, starting in Leicester.
Having been outclassed in midfield during the UEFA Nations League defeat to Spain, Delph and Loftus-Cheek either side of the more defensively-inclined Eric Dier was a window into a more dynamic, forward-thinking engine room.
Almost immediately, Loftus-Cheek was appearing in those pockets of space between the lines and looking to get at the Swiss defence. Delph, meanwhile, offered a snapshot of his creative capacity, slipping Danny Rose in behind after just five minutes.
The main problem; England didn’t see enough of the ball in the first half as the Swiss controlled the tempo and Loftus-Cheek certainly cut a frustrated figure when his number went up on the hour mark.
Loftus-Cheek is evidently talented and while it is certainly an uncommon scenario that he needs to shine on the international stage in order to get club football and not vice versa, he needs to show more in possession when given the chance from the start.
Left-back options a plus for Southgate
There was a nationwide sigh of relief at the news that the injury Luke Shaw sustained in the defeat to Spain was not as serious as initially feared.
The Manchester United defender exited Wembley wearing an oxygen mask and a neck brace. The 23-year-old will be back to action soon, thankfully, but his absence here provided Danny Rose with an opportunity to impress.
Rose was England’s brightest spark in an otherwise infuriating opening 45 minutes, offering a willing outlet down the left with driving, penetrative runs.
With Shaw’s return to form, Rose’s return to fitness and the rise of Ben Chilwell, Southgate can be thankful that his options at left-back are plentiful. Rose will be 28 in November while Chilwell and Shaw, 21 and 23 respectively, have the potential be England mainstays over the next decade.
Ironically, it was Walker, a natural right-back – deployed as part of the back three of course – who delivered the killer ball for Rashford’s goal, the Manchester City defender tasting redemption after surprisingly being left out against Spain.
While Rose may not have bagged himself an assist, he is one of three strong candidates in a healthy part of the pitch for Southgate. Rose isn’t first-choice at Tottenham but Southgate has retained faith in him and a man of the match performance will do his confidence the world of good.
Welbeck fails to shine
With Harry Kane rested, it was a chance for Danny Welbeck to turn Southgate’s head, playing alongside Rashford at the head of a 3-5-2.
He failed to deliver. It was injury-prone Arsenal striker’s first start since May and was unable to lay much of a glove on the Swiss defence.
Blessed with excellent natural pace and enthusiasm, the 27-year-old didn’t seem to be on the same wavelength as Rashford, who netted his second in as many games when he connected with Walker’s cross.
Welbeck, as willing as ever, just lacks that cutting edge and yard of sharpness that comes with full fitness. He hasn’t started many games in recent months, though, so it was easy to sympathise with his visible disappointment at being hooked off after 60 minutes while Rashford, who played 90 minutes on Saturday, stayed on.
Southgate’s tweaks made a difference
Southgate is determined to stick with the three-man defence that served the Three Lions so well in Russia.
He is not completely stubborn, however, as illustrated by his subtle tactical tweak at the start of the second half, pushing Loftus-Cheek higher up the pitch with Dier and Delph – and later Jordan Henderson – shielding the defence.
The results were far from seismic, of course, but the switch did allow England to regain control in midfield after a shaky opening 45 minutes.
Of course, Southgate must strike that balance between control and aggression in midfield. Although Dier and Henderson offer plenty of protection, they represent a fairly static double-pivot which will likely prove ineffective against elite sides.
Chilwell gets his moment, Gray doesn’t
With just over ten minutes remaining, the crowd were upstanding for one of Leicester’s rising stars, Chilwell, who replaced Rose for his England debut.
It’s been a rapid rise for the 21-year-old, one that was completed by an international bow inside the stadium he has regularly brought to life over the last year.
Although we were only offered a glimpse of Chilwell, it was at least a glimpse, a starting point. Spare a thought for Demarai Gray, his Leicester teammate who remained on the bench as one of only two outfield players – along with Joe Gomez – not to get a minute.
However, Gomez played 90 minutes against Spain and is widely seen as the future of the England defence. Gray, a gifted but raw winger, would have been eager to please but was not afforded the same proud moment as Chilwell.
Gray’s time may yet come, but it was a bitterly disappointing end to an otherwise excellent week for the 22-year-old.