Friendlies, you will have been told, are all about the performance. This one wasn’t. This was about the win.
Getting in front, and holding that lead. Ending a run of defeats that would have been the worst in the history of the national team, if Switzerland had come out on top like Spain, Belgium and Croatia before them.
Gareth Southgate made good on his promise to involve many of those that had not featured against Spain on Saturday – that, after all, is what non-competitive fixtures are for: experimentation, experience.
Marcus Rashford was jumping for joy after scoring his fifth international goal for England on Tuesday night
After Kyle Walker’s cross evaded Danny Welbeck (centre), Rashford was left unmarked at the back post to score
The 20-year-old was a picture of concentration as he opened up his body to slot home with his right foot
The Manchester United striker was given the freedom of the Switzerland penalty area to score at the King Power Stadium
That strike made it two goals in two games for England this international break – after netting in the 2-1 home defeat by Spain
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
England (3-5-2): Butland 6; Walker 6.5, Tarkowski 6 (Stones 61, 6.5), Maguire 6.5; Alexander-Arnold 6.5 (Trippier 68), Dier 5.5, Loftus-Cheek 6 (Lingard 61, 6.5), Delph 6 (Henderson 68, 6), Rose 8 (Chilwell 79), Rashford 7.5, Welbeck 5.5 (Kane 61, 6).
Subs not used: Pickford, Gomez, Gray, McCarthy, Bettinelli.
Manager: Gareth Southgate 6
Switzerland (3-5-1-1): Sommer 6.5; Schar 6.5, Djourou 6, Akanji 6 (Megmedi 46, 6); Lichtsteiner 6, Zakaria 7 (Fernandes 66, 6), Xhaka 6.5, Freuler 6.5 (Zuber 67, 6), Rodriguez 6.5 (Moubandje 46, 6); Shaqiri 7 (Seferovic 80); Gavranovic 6 (Ajeti 67, 6).
Subs not used: Mvogo, Klose, Mbabu, Embolo, Sow, Mehmedi, Kobel.
Manager: Vladimir Petkovic 6.
Referee: Clement Turpin (France) 6
Attendance: 30, 256
Player Ratings by Jack Gaughan
Yet once a member of his first XI, Marcus Rashford, had got England’s noses in front after 54 minutes, the players Southgate introduced to see out the 30 minutes had a distinctly A-team feel.
On came Harry Kane for Danny Welbeck, John Stones for James Tarkowski, Jesse Lingard for Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Jordan Henderson for Fabian Delph, Kieran Trippier for Trent Alexander-Arnold.
The Leicester locals hoping to see their boys promoted from the Under 21s, Ben Chilwell and Demarai Gray, were kept waiting. Chilwell got on, but not until the 79th minute. This wasn’t about sentimentality. England had lost three games straight, their worst run in 30 years and only equalled six times across three centuries, and no manager wants that record around his neck – certainly not when the next two games are Croatia and Spain away.
The country, the press box, the dressing-room, all are on Southgate’s side – but a manager still needs an end product. Players, in particular, require evidence that sunlit uplands are ahead, that their leader is charting the right course. They had that at the World Cup, with progress to the semi-finals – but the campaign ended on two defeats, and another to Spain at the weekend. Friendly or not, they needed to be shown that Southgate’s methods could win football matches against good opposition. Switzerland put six past Iceland in their last competitive match. They are not world-beaters – but they are not mugs either.
So Rashford’s winner was a welcome one. A wild corner from the largely impressive Danny Rose was overhit in a way that made one briefly pine for the precision of Trippier, but was picked up by Kyle Walker deep on the right.
He had time to as good as tee the ball up and strike it to the far post, where Rashford had lost his man.
Danny Rose looks to start an attack for England down their left-hand side during the first half of Tuesday’s friendly
Goalscorer Rashford’s pace was causing the Switzerland defence problems when he had space to run into
The Manchester United forward was back in the thick of the action soon after that burst with this dribble
Trent Alexander-Arnold (right) was hoping to take his club form for Liverpool into England during Tuesday’s friendly
England midfielder Fabian Delph (left) tackles Denis Zakaria during an uneventful first half which the visitors edged
He met the ball on the volley from close range, leaving goalkeeper Yann Sommer no chance. It was his second goal of this international break and one that confirms he is a rare thing: a player who looks better for England than for his club right now.
Stones emerged with credit, too, for a John Terry-like block that prevented a certain Swiss equaliser. Who knows what Southgate said before sending him on, but it certainly didn’t look as if the instructions were to take it easy and not sweat the result.
England were much improved in the second half, though, even before the cavalry arrived. All the opening 45 minutes proved was that, regardless of performance, Southgate’s instincts on players is most usually right. Jordan Pickford is much better than Jack Butland in goal; Tarkowski is behind at least four centre halves at international level, and one of those is a full back, Walker; Henderson is a more reliable pivot than Eric Dier; Ruben Loftus-Cheek needs games if he is to keep pace with the elite. Rashford aside, there really isn’t much below Kane.
This was a second string England XI against more of a first-choice Switzerland and early on it showed. Vladimir Petkovic’s team saw more of the ball and did better things with it.
They hit a post as England looked nervous; they spread the play wide and made full use of the pitch; they limited England largely to set piece action, although without many of Southgate’s prime operatives the impact was reduced.
There was a familiar face watching England on Tuesday as Jamie Vardy (second left) cheered on his former team-mates
The Leicester striker was in a relaxed mood as he watched the match alongside his wife Rebekah Vardy
England manager Gareth Southgate barks out instructions to his side as they try to find a way past Switzerland
Ruben Loftus-Cheek (centre) was given a chance to shine for England but had a rather quiet showing
Jack Butland made a good save from Mario Gavranovic in the first half but looked below par from his form shown a year ago
MARTIN KEOWN’S INSIGHT ON GAME
England’s superior quality in front of goal saw them over the line but in the first half Switzerland gave them a lesson in how to dominate possession with this system.
Both teams set up with three at the back and a midfield trio but while England played two strikers, the Swiss had one up top with Xherdan Shaqiri off the front.
When Switzerland won the ball, Shaqiri would drop deep to give them an extra man in midfield. It meant that England’s midfielders were often outnumbered, they did not know when or where to press and the visitors had 60.9 per cent of the ball before half-time.
England rectified the issue after the break with Marcus Rashford coming deeper more often to help get his team on the ball. It was a good learning curve for Gareth Southgate’s side. If England are to persist with two up front, one of the forwards needs to be prepared to drop deep.
On the field at half-time, an announcer who had clearly been on the happy pills attempted to pick out England’s highlights. It became obvious rather early that he was reaching.
The first clip featured local hero Harry Maguire – erroneously called ‘John’ – receiving the ball from goalkeeper Butland wide of his own penalty area, and returning it straight back to him. That Butland then gave a powder puff pass to Tarkowski who was caught in possession by Xherdan Shaqiri, his low shot striking a post, rather spoiled the wonder of this moment.
Seconds earlier, Butland had played an even worse pass, across his goal, dismally weak, as nerves and Championship football showed. He didn’t look the same player that had been tipped to displace Joe Hart a year ago. His team, Stoke, have since departed the Premier League and are struggling in tier two, and Butland is struggling with them.
His nervousness here exposed the theory that, if the Premier League talent pool is shallow, Southgate can always look to the league below. The gap between the Championship and international football – even international friendlies – is immense. The same applies to the under-cooked Loftus-Cheek.
It took him until the 37th minute to feature in a move of significance and, when he did, it ended with Rose forcing a save from goalkeeper Sommer.
This seemed to give the Chelsea man a fillip and he finished the half strongly, or involved at least. Early on the game had unfolded around him, much as this season has, well down the pecking order under Maurizio Sarri.
Nor can it be that England’s players are already focussing on the Premier League action at the weekend. Shaqiri is involved in that, too – a huge game for Liverpool at Tottenham – and he was at the heart of Switzerland’s inventive possession football. They did not come to play England on the counter, but attacked, through the middle, while always ready to stretch wide, and with considerably more options.
Southgate praises the impact of Welbeck after replacing him in the second half for England captain Harry Kane
Rashford tries to escape the attention of his Swiss marker as the Three Lions go in search of their second goal
Switzerland’s main man Xherdran Shaqiri (right) endured a difficult night in the East Midlands as his side were beaten 1-0
The Liverpool winger was foiled at every attempt by the hosts’ defence – including this shot deflected over by John Stones
Ben Chilwell (centre) made his England debut late on as the young left back replaced Danny Rose
In the 31st minute, Walker and Tarkowski were found wanting and Mario Gavranovic skipped through, Butland saving at his feet. Soon after, a shot by Ricardo Rodriguez appeared to be slightly misjudged, Butland at first shaping as if to watch it go wide, before scrambling slightly when it looked as if it wouldn’t. Happily, his initial instincts were correct.
The Rose shot aside, England’s best chances came as usual from set pieces.
In the fifth minute a corner from Rose picked out Welbeck and he should have done better with his header, cut out on the way to goal. After 17 minutes, it was a similar story from a free-kick by Alexander-Arnold, met by Dier with a stooping header steered wide.
By the end it was good news all round, though. England were not even bottom of their UEFA Nations League group anymore, Spain having beaten Croatia 6-0. Lessens the impact of the 2-1 defeat at the weekend – doesn’t reflect so well on losing to Croatia in the World Cup semi-final.
Hey ho: Southgate will know where he stands soon enough and, for now at least, a win is a win.