England returned to winning ways after three successive defeats as Marcus Rashford’s second-half volley gave them victory over Switzerland in a scrappy and subdued friendly at Leicester’s King Power Stadium.
Manager Gareth Southgate made nine changes from the side that lost 2-1 to Spain in the Uefa Nations League game at Wembley on Saturday – and for long periods it showed.
Switzerland were the better side in the first half and Liverpool’s Xherdan Shaqiri should have given them the lead early on, only to strike the post after England goalkeeper Jack Butland’s poor clearance played James Tarkowski into trouble.
England, as they had to do, improved after the break and the decisive goal came in the 54th minute when Rashford arrived at the far post to turn in Kyle Walker’s cross after Switzerland failed to clear a corner.
Rashford – England’s big success
Rashford was one of those in Southgate’s squad hoping to use the Nations League game against Spain and this friendly with Switzerland to provide a reminder of his worth for his country and perhaps kick-start his season at club level.
Manchester United’s 20-year-old forward has only played 122 minutes for his club this season, has not started since the opening game against Leicester and was sent off after coming on as a substitute in their last game at Burnley.
Rashford put all that behind him to emerge as one of the big winners in these two England games, showing he has the potential to ease the goalscoring burden on captain Harry Kane and proving what an important future role he has to play under Southgate.
He was England’s biggest threat against Spain, scoring their goal in the 2-1 defeat and also having chances to add more – and he was lively again here..
Rashford still has an understandable rawness about him but he also has pace, fearlessness and an eye for goal.
He was the beneficiary of Raheem Sterling’s absence through injury and has given manager Southgate food for thought with two goals in two games, especially as the Manchester City forward has gone 26 games without hitting the target at international level.
Tough night for Butland
Everton’s Jordan Pickford is firmly established as England’s first-choice goalkeeper after his brilliant World Cup in Russia – but this was an opportunity for Stoke City’s Butland to demonstrate why he can be regarded as his closest challenger.
It was a difficult night for the 25-year-old in the early stages when he miscued a clearance across the face of his own goal then played Tarkowski into trouble, Shaqiri wasting that chance to give Switzerland the lead.
Southgate now sets great store in his goalkeeper’s ability with his feet and Butland’s uncertainty was in sharp contrast to the confidence shown by Pickford and the manner in which he sets the tone for playing out from the back.
Butland made amends with a couple of blocks with his feet but, even though he has many qualities, he did not produce a performance that will put Pickford under any additional pressure.
England still a work in progress
It has been back to reality for England after the euphoria of Russia and that run to the World Cup semi-final.
They were put firmly in their place by Spain – although that result can perhaps be placed in context by the 6-0 thrashing the Spanish handed out to England’s World Cup conquerors Croatia in their Nations League game on Tuesday.
Southgate, at least, was able to enjoy a victory after three successive competitive losses and that return to winning ways will be welcomed as he and England try to build on what so many regarded as great World Cup success.
He is, above all, a realist and two largely subdued performances will only have confirmed in his mind that he still has much work to do as he attempts to continue England’s development.
Man of the match – Danny Rose (England)
More to follow.