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England at Switzerland: Game Preview

IRDNING, AUSTRIA - MAY 19:  Wayne Rooney speaks to Fabio Capello during an England training session on May 19, 2010 in Irdning, Austria.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
IRDNING, AUSTRIA - MAY 19: Wayne Rooney speaks to Fabio Capello during an England training session on May 19, 2010 in Irdning, Austria. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Time: Tuesday September 7th, 7:45 PM BST (11:45 AM PST)

Location: St Jakob Park, Basle

Preamble: After a crushing win at home over Bulgaria to start the qualification campaign, England will be looking to secure their spot as favourites to win Group G with a win over second seeds Switzerland in Basle. The Swiss, who were the only team in the group not to play last Friday, will be no knockovers, and their organisation at the back will prove an extremely tough nut for England to crack. England will need to be at their attacking best in order to break through a defensive line that kept Spain goal-less at the World Cup, and that means Wayne Rooney's focus needs to be completely on the field. However, the tabloids launched a volley of attacks at Rooney over the weekend - will that prove enough to destabilise this fragile team?

England: Fabio Capello has lost Michael Dawson for the immediate future, the centre back withdrawing from the squad after he picked up a knee injury on Friday. Expect a battle between Matthew Upson and Gary Cahill for the vacated starting position, with Cahill probably the better option due to his speed. The other major news has been some set of sordid 'revelations' about Wayne Rooney's private life in yet another attack on the national team by the tabloids. I won't dignify the accusations by repeating them (or even reading about them), but one hopes that Rooney, never the most stable of players even at the best of times, keeps his head in the game and doesn't let this distract him.

Opposition: The Swiss are nothing special in front of goal, despite the presence of veteran striker Alexander Frei and Leverkusen's Eren Derdiyok. Instead of playing anything like a fluid attacking game, look for the midfield and defence to win the ball and hoof it long in the hopes of unleashing a quick counter-attack. Switzerland's calling card is an extremely tight midfield, who all drop back to support the defence. Instead of two banks of four and a large space in between, the Swiss play extremely close together, almost as one bank of eight. England's best chances may well come on set pieces.

Thoughts: I don't think Rooney will be nearly so effective as a trequartista against the Swiss, simply because there won't be any room for him to operate between the midfield and the defence - Switzerland are simply too compact to play in that gap. England's best chances will probably come down the wings, and they'd be well served to replace James Milner with Adam Johnson or Ashley Young - speed will be much more helpful against that defence than clever, patient passing. If Rooney does play deep (and everything out of the England camp says he will), it should secure the midfield, but it's pretty doubtful he can carve up the defence as easily as he did on Friday.

I can't imagine Switzerland bombarding the English goal, but if Glen Johnson gets sucked forward again there may be some big gaps for Derdiyok to exploit. Unless Johnson's attacking tendencies can be reigned in, England should be trying to find themselves a new, less suicidal right back. Joe Hart should be able to deal with any Swiss half-chances, but relying on him to prevent every attack is a silly game. England need to avoid pushing Gareth Barry and Johnson too high up the pitch in order to mitigate the threat posed by a quick counterattack.

I'm not too confident about this one, and I'd be much happier if Rooney was pushed back up front and used as a wrecking ball. Given that this is away from home and against our #1 opposition for automatic qualification, I'd be happy with a draw. 0-0, anyone?

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