Another mediocre performance in a Three Lions shirt—against Peru in England’s 3-0 victory at Wembley on Friday—will leave many questioning the role of Wayne Rooney in Roy Hodgson’s squad, and how England would line up if the manager were to drop his star striker.
Prior to the routine win over the South American side, former England and Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes questioned whether Roy Hodgson would have the “balls” to drop Rooney, as per PaddyPower.com.
This is an accusation that the 66-year-old refuted with gusto, with The Guardian quoting the England manager as saying “I’d like to think that, as someone who has been a manager for a long time, I have the capacity to make the decisions that are necessary.”
Rooney’s inability to link up with Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge—now ostensibly England’s leading forward—against Peru should be cause for great concern for Hodgson in the build-up to the World Cup.
It may perhaps be just that the 28-year-old settles for a place on the bench for the benefit of the team.
Jason Burt, writing for The Telegraph, agrees that dropping Rooney may be the best option for Hodgson moving forward, with plenty of progressive attacking options coming to the fore in the 2013/14 Premier League season.
There is, indeed, a problem with Rooney. Should he play? Or, rather, should he start? The 28-year-old looks in good shape, despite Hodgson’s description of him as “rusty”, but the question is this: is England’s shape any good with Rooney?
So, with Rooney as a bench player in mind, how would England line up without him?
Lallana as No. 10
This system could see Southampton’s Adam Lallana come inside from his usual left wing position to operate as a traditional No. 10 in favour of Rooney.
The 26-year-old reported Liverpool target, per BBC Sport, possesses the deft ability to produce consistently across the front line.
This is a quality which endeared himself to the fluid system that Mauricio Pochettino adopted during his time as the Saints’ manager.
According to WhoScored.com, Lallana made 10 starts as a No. 10, or central attacking midfielder, for Southampton in the 2013/14 season, with a further 10 as a right winger, nine on the left wing and a further eight starts in more, or less, advanced positions.
As per Squawka, the Saints’ captain created 68 chances for his teammates in 2013/14—more than any other Southampton player—and this dwarfs that of Rooney, who created 56 chances.
Lallana is relatively new to the England setup, but in his four appearances for Hodgson’s side so far he has exhibited a fearlessness that suggests he would be able to perform in this focal role to as great an effect as he has at St. Marys.
Raheem Sterling & the Midfield Diamond
In the absence of other midfielders, and in the interest of tactical superiority, at points toward the end of the 2013/14 season Liverpool manager experimented by utilising 19-year-old attacker Raheem Sterling in the role behind Sturridge and Luis Suarez.
Happily for the Reds' manager, this worked to great effect, and should be an option for Hodgson to consider if he were to drop Rooney.
Liverpool's main area of strength in this match was not up front. It was in a deeper position. Sterling's versatility at just 19 years old is remarkable: having played successfully on either flank, his ability to play the central No10 role has been one of the most surprising aspects of an increasingly extraordinary Liverpool campaign.
Performing adeptly against such world-class talents as Yaya Toure, Fernandinho and David Silva—all of which will appear at the World Cup—proves Sterling’s credentials in this position, and it is an option that Hodgson should consider in his tactical build-up.
This system, under Rodgers, included a pair of shuttling midfielders, operating between the flanks and the central positions, and Hodgson’s fittest duo—James Milner and Jordan Henderson—would suit this perfectly.
In 33 league appearances for the Reds in the Premier League season just gone, Sterling scored nine goals and made five assists, as per WhoScored—a healthy return for a 19-year-old.
Most encouragingly, the Jamaican-born midfielder enjoyed his most fruitful period as a No. 10, scoring three and assisting two in five appearances directly behind the front two.
Burt continued to write “[Rooney is] not quick enough to make the bursts from deep that Sterling is capable of – or running in behind the opposition.”
Could this be evidence enough that Sterling can perform in this role for England in Rooney’s stead?
Perhaps the most audacious, and least likely, option for Hodgson at the World Cup if he were to drop Rooney is utilising his most physically comparable compatriot: Ross Barkley.
The way in which the 20-year-old burst onto the Premier League scene under Roberto Martinez at Everton in 2013/14 is eerily reminiscent of Rooney’s rampage as a youngster on the books at Goodison Park.
Barkley could be seen as Hodgson’s secret weapon at this World Cup, a mercurial talent of the highest quality, and it is perhaps telling that he has featured so sparingly under the 66-year-old so far.
The midfielder is by far the least creative of Hodgson’s potential No. 10 options, with Squawka attributing the Everton man as creating only 25 chances in 2013/14.
However, he is hugely effective as a direct attacking option, and his 80 take-ons completed was fourth only to Eden Hazard (132), Luis Suarez (93) and Sterling (92).
As a No. 10, Barkley possesses the canny ability to create something out of nothing, as evidenced by his superb curling opener against Manchester City in May.
Throughout the season, Martinez was effusive in his praise of the 20-year-old, with The Independent seeing the Spaniard comparing his player to two of world football’s greatest No. 10’s:
When I see Ross, I see bits of [Michael] Ballack and bits of Gazza. It’s for us to make those comparisons, but I can guarantee you Ross Barkley is quite unique…He is someone you can compare to any other nation, and I mean the young Brazilians, Dutch, Spanish players. He has a gift and that talent.
Barkley would thrive in the role behind Sturridge, and his unpredictability may be what England need in this World Cup.
In all likelihood, Rooney’s stature and proven ability in the past will secure his spot in Hodgson’s starting XI throughout Brazil 2014.
As a talent, he has been so devastatingly effective in the past that it would be difficult to leave him out.
However, given the Manchester United forward’s record in major tournaments gone by, it would be wise for Hodgson to consider other options going forward.
This, not least, would provide him with tactical flexibility that may provide the edge when faced with tough, malleable opposition such as Uruguay.
Lallana, Sterling and Barkley are all exceptional, Premier League-proven options in the No. 10 role, and all players which will be less familiar to an international audience.