England have in the not-so-distant past struggled to find a player worthy of holding down a regular starting spot on the left flank. Paul Scholes was played on the wing to accommodate Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in midfield at Euro 2004. Since then, Joe Cole, Stewart Downing and Adam Johnson, amongst others, have all been utilised in the role with mixed success.
Roy Hodgson seems set to use Danny Welbeck on the left side of midfield in his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation this summer, but deployed Wayne Rooney on the flank in England's 2-2 draw with Ecuador on Wednesday. The Manchester United attacker was the only player to start both the 3-0 win over Peru and the stalemate in Miami, presumably so he can gain match fitness ahead of the World Cup, having missed the end of the Premier League season with a groin problem.
Playing for the first time since United's 4-0 win over Norwich at the end of April, Rooney was unsurprisingly rusty in the victory over Peru prior to his 66th minute withdrawal. This contributed to the attacker's WhoScored rating of 6.47, which was the lowest of every England starter, despite playing in the number 10 role, arguably his best position.
Rooney failed to register a shot on target or execute a key pass, while his pass accuracy (79%) was below his accustomed level. With Sturridge operating ahead of him, the Liverpool striker would have thrived off a number 10 who gets between the lines and plays a defence splitting pass, which Rooney failed to do.
A poor first touch did not aid his cause at Wembley and fans were happy to see him substituted for Raheem Sterling on Friday, with many feeling the latter is deserving of a place in the starting XI. Sterling though was again forced to start from the bench against Ecuador as Hodgson opted to start Rooney on the left.
Hodgson altered his attack line for the game in Miami, with Rooney, Ross Barkley and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain supporting Rickie Lambert. Rooney put in a much-improved performance in midweek, as his WhoScored rating of 7.38 suggests. Netting a first half equaliser, the United attacker appeared far more comfortable on the left side of the midfield, though a change in personnel in attack may have contributed to this.
Lambert's inclination to drop deeper drew the Ecuador defenders out of position, freeing up space for Oxlade-Chamberlain, Barkley and Rooney to make runs in behind the backline, particularly in the opening 45 minutes. The latter drifting inside also allowed for left-back Luke Shaw to overlap from deep and provide an alternative offensive threat.
Without being crowded out by the midfield and defence, Rooney was able to utilise the creative aspect of his game that saw him put in a better display for the national team. Rooney also fired away more shots on goal (4), which will have pleased Hodgson. With fewer players surrounding him, more time on the ball and better match fitness, the United ace looked his more familiar self on Wednesday than he did last week, which has supporters wondering whether his best position will be on the left of midfield this summer.
However, with Hodgson expected to persist with a 4-2-3-1 in Brazil, this could benefit Rooney. The 28-year-old is yet to return to full fitness, so would not be able to perform his defensive duties to the standard expected of him. Despite looking a 4-2-3-1 on paper, Hodgson still prefers to call on two banks of four when defending, so Rooney would have to track back and cover for the left-back when England are on the back foot if he does start on the left-wing. Behind the striker, there would be less onus on him to work back, though this may not be the case when England face Italy on June 14th.
Rooney played in the number 10 role when the two teams last met at Euro 2012, where he was tasked with keeping deep-lying playmaker Andrea Pirlo in check. However, his lack of discipline saw Pirlo control proceedings from deep and England were fortunate to take the game to penalties. At the World Cup, should Hodgson ask the same of Rooney, the Juventus midfielder will likely be able to capitalise on this lack of defensive awareness to hurt England.
Moreover, playing on the left will grant Rooney more time on the ball to express himself creatively, however much of that could depend on who plays in attack. Barkley has a tendency to pull to the left, as he did with Everton last season, while Lambert drops deep to receive the ball. This frees up space centrally for Rooney, who can then drift infield and drive at the opposition to create chances for his teammates.
It remains to be seen how Rooney will be deployed in Brazil this summer, but he's expected to start behind Sturridge against Honduras due to Oxlade-Chamberlain's injury and Sterling's suspension. However, Hodgson may be better served starting Rooney on the left of the trio behind the striker the World Cup, if performances against Peru and Ecuador are anything to go by.
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All statistics courtesy of http://www.whoscored.com where you can find yet more stats and player ratings.