Hodgson faces Rooney conundrum in key Uruguay match
Monday, 16th June 2014 at 11:22am
After defeat to Italy in their opening match, England must avoid defeat against Uruguay and arguably win if they are to have any chance of progressing to the round of 16.
Despite not picking up a point from their trip to the Amazon, there were positives that could be taken from the game as the Three Lions played with an attacking verve not seen from an England team since Euro 2004 if not before.
The performances from Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge and in particular Raheem Sterling were very encouraging and would suggest that England can trouble a Uruguayan defence much weaker than Italy's.
Roy Hodgson sprang a surprise in naming Sterling in the starting lineup, playing him centrally behind Sturridge and with just rewards as he turned in a display beyond his tender years.
But by placing Sterling through the middle, Hodgson was forced to play Wayne Rooney out of position on the left hand side.
It was from that position that Rooney laid on a goal for Daniel Sturridge but it was an isolated moment of good play in an overall lackluster display.
Where Sterling was buzzing and effervescent, Rooney - so often lauded as England's key man - was slow and flat.
He also failed to help out defensively which put pressure on Leighton Baines who repeatedly found himself having to repel Italy's attacks which came down the England left.
It was from one of these attacks that the Azzurri scored the winning goal when a cross from Antonio Candreva was headed home by Mario Balotelli.
Heading into the game against Uruguay there have been calls to restore Rooney to a central position where he can have greater impact on the game but there have been just as many calls for him to be benched.
Rooney did play more centrally after Danny Welbeck was switched to left and Sterling moved wide right but it reduced the latter's effectiveness and Rooney's only real contribution was to miss a good chance to bring England level.
In the Manchester United man's defence, his record for his country is excellent but it is beginning to look like he is a flat track bully; scoring goals against lesser sides in qualifying but being unable to cut it in World Cup finals.
Rooney remains without a goal in nine World Cup games and had just a solitary assist - not the return from a player hailed as world class.
Once considered un-droppable, that is no longer the case as England finally have viable options to replace him with.
The teams that have impressed the most so far this tournament have had pacy attacks and when Rooney plays, the pace drops.
For England to be a success at Brazil 2014, they need to play to their strengths which clearly lie in players like Sterling, Ross Barkley and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The three are all blessed with pace and the ability to beat a man which seems to be beyond Rooney nowadays. They also have the stamina required to last 90 minutes after a long, hard season, whereas Rooney seemed to be blowing hard earlier than many of his team-mates in Manaus.
If Oxlade-Chamberlain recovers from injury in time for the Uruguay match he must surely be considered given the nature of his performance against Ecuador in Miami.
A front four of Sturridge, Sterling, Oxlade-Chamberlain/Berkley and, for his limitations, Welbeck, would be cause for optimism among England fans.
Because of the emergence of these young players Rooney now genuinely fears for his place in the side and it's not hard to imagine that he might be considering speaking to Dr Steve Peters in the run up to the match.
Perhaps the worry of losing his place in the side could be the catalyst to improved performances and if he can regain some of his old swagger then he would be an asset to this England side but, as Paul Scholes suggested, maybe we have already seen the best of Rooney.
Given the conservative nature of Hodgson, it's unlikely that he will drop Rooney for a game of this magnitude and maybe he will be rewarded for his faith shown in the Manchester United striker but judging by his display in Manaus it might be beyond him.
Fortune favours the brave; has Hodgson got the balls to do what would at one stage been unthinkable and drop Rooney?