England cruised to a 3-0 victory over Peru at Wembley on Friday evening, as Roy Hodgson appeared to road-test his preferred starting XI and formation for this summer’s World Cup.
A fine individual strike from Daniel Sturridge opened the scoring before Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka added a certain gloss to proceedings in the second half with finishes from set pieces, but it was the performances of his players in various roles that will have been of greater importance to the head coach.
Both the flaws and the advantages of a surprisingly fluid system were on display before the inevitable raft of substitutions spoiled the flow of the match, with England’s interchanging forward line perplexing Peru on numerous occasions—but also leaving them somewhat porous at the back, with only some smart saves from Joe Hart preserving the home side’s clean sheet.
Nevertheless, there were arguably more positives than negatives to take from the run-out, with Hodgson now likely to have a better idea of what still needs to be worked on in England’s two remaining international friendlies in Florida next week.
The coach told ITV (h/t BBC):
It was a wonderful send off to the World Cup by a quite incredible crowd.
When you play against teams with 10 men behind the ball you have to be patient but I had no doubt we would win. They would tire and 3-0 is the minimal acceptable achievement.
It was also good for some of the young players to get out here at Wembley.
Hodgson’s starting XI selection seemed to offer a lot of tactical flexibility, making it hard to predict with any certainty the formation that would be used during the game. This was borne out over the first 45 minutes, with England—particularly in midfield and attack—interchanging positions and shapes with impressive regularity.
The “base” formation appeared to be a 4-3-3, however, with Jordan Henderson in the centre of midfield and Gerrard and Adam Lallana operating around him. Sturridge, Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney then operated as an attacking trio, swapping positions frequently to unsettle their opponents.
Perhaps being told to replicate how they are expected to play in Brazil, the home side began the match at a relatively low tempo, content to pass the ball around and let the full-backs, or occasionally Lallana (whose movements seemed to see the setup move toward a 4-2-3-1 at times), inject pace into the game with surging runs from deep.
This approach took a while to settle into, though, with the first 15 minutes lacking in excitement or clear chances. Indeed, it was Peru who first had a sight of goal, as Hart did well to claw away Jean Deza’s deflected strike at goal.
Gradually England improved, growing more comfortable with their unfamiliar setup. Lallana’s first surging run ended up with Sturridge firing a loose ball narrowly wide of goal from eight yards, before Alberto Rodriguez had to make a panicked clearance as Gerrard nearly found his Liverpool team-mate with a perceptive header.
Gerrard’s next significant involvement saw that real rarity, a yellow card in an international friendly. The Three Lions captain was felled by Rinaldo Cruzado in dangerous fashion; with the referee perhaps sensing revenge when he booked Gerrard moments late for a hard but fair tackle on the energetic Deza.
Moments later, England lifted the torpor that was descending on Wembley with the opening goal. It was one all of Sturridge’s making, the striker shifting onto his favoured left foot on the edge of the box before curling a beautiful strike into the top corner. A few more of those in Brazil would be very welcome.
Relieved of the pressure of needing to break the deadlock England had further chances before half-time, although neither Rooney nor Welbeck could find the target with headed chances.
As a result, Peru could have evened things up on the stroke of half-time, Hart bailing Sturridge out with a fine stop at his near post after the forward had let Deza run free down the right.
Neither side made changes to start the second half, perhaps the clearest indication that the starting XI Hodgson named could be his preferred selection later this summer.
Perhaps as a result the game continued to be played at a relaxed pace, with England’s midfielders frequently eschewing the probing ball over the top to keep possession closer to home. Peru had just one decent sight of goal, but Jagielka was alert to cover Cahill and block Deza’s low shot.
The changes finally started to arrive around the hour-mark—Gerrard and Rooney preserved, giving Jack Wilshere and Raheem Sterling their chance—and within 10 minutes the game was effectively over as a contest. Both goals came from corners, albeit from different sides.
The first saw Baines’ outswinger met by Cahill with a powerful effort, before his centre-back partner Jagielka got in on the act five minutes later after the ball fell perfectly for him as Raul Fernandez fumbled an attempted clearance.
Hodgson, now sensing such a one-sided game could teach him little more about his options, changed further—bringing James Milner into midfield and Chris Smalling into defence. This saw England shift more permanently to a 4-2-3-1, with Wilshere playing alongside Henderson and Sturridge leading the line.
FT: England 3 Peru 0. More questions than answers, as always. Still a work in progress. Lovely goal from Sturridge.— Oliver Kay (@OliverKayTimes) May 30, 2014
John Stones was then given his debut at right-back, replacing Baines as Johnson switch to the other side. Ross Barkley completed Hodgson’s six substitutions, as he had a brief look at a number of different formations and combinations.
Unsurprisingly that removed much of the rhythm of the match, especially with Peru contend to limit the damage as the game entered the final minutes. Welbeck and Barkley combined to create one final chance, as Sterling’s lob sailed wide from just inside the box.
It perhaps should have finished 4-0, but this game was never going to be about the scoreline.
Hodgson added: "We had to be patient but we were dominant throughout. It is the perfect end to a perfect two weeks. I am delighted that 85,000 fans came here to wish us well on our way."
"It's a case of not going out there to make the numbers up," Sturridge told ITV, when asked about the challenge England will soon face in Brazil.
"Everyone wants to win… I'm a winner, all the players are winners. It doesn't necessarily mean we're going to win the World Cup, but we're winners, so, you know, we'll do our best."
England's next friendly is against Ecuador on June 4. They then complete their World Cup warm-ups with a game against Honduras on June 7. Both games take place in Florida, United States.
Peru, meanwhile, will next help Switzerland with their own preparations for Brazil—facing the Europeans in Bern on June 3.