Football: Southgate may gamble with Rooney in midfield

England players (from left) Theo Walcott, Jamie Vardy (back facing) and Wayne Rooney during a training session as caretaker coach Gareth Southgate looks on.
England players (from left) Theo Walcott, Jamie Vardy (back facing) and Wayne Rooney during a training session as caretaker coach Gareth Southgate looks on.PHOTO: REUTERS

England captain set for a deeper role today as interim coach begins his first game in charge

LONDON • Gareth Southgate is considering returning Wayne Rooney to the midfield position he occupied with mixed results at Euro 2016 in his first match in charge of England's senior team against Malta today.

The England captain trained with Dele Alli in a midfield role at St George's Park on Thursday as Southgate continued his preparations for the World Cup qualifier at Wembley.

The interim manager has yet to name his team, but, on the basis of training, appears to be leaning towards using Rooney in a deeper role.

Roy Hodgson played him in midfield last summer, but Jose Mourinho, on being appointed Manchester United manager, said that Rooney was not a midfield player and he used him as a No. 10 this season before dropping him for his side's past three matches.

Southgate this week expressed his belief that Rooney was capable of playing in a number of different positions and, on the training ground at least, his deeds are matching his words.

The 46-year-old will be able to gamble by picking a cavalier side against Malta, with forwards Theo Walcott, Marcus Rashford and Daniel Sturridge foremost in his thoughts as he considers the composition of his front three.

However, he may have to be more circumspect for Tuesday's qualifier against Slovenia.

The outcome of that match in Ljubljana could go a long way towards deciding whether Southgate gets the England job on a full-time basis.

Joe Hart is set to keep his place in goal despite an indifferent start to his loan spell at Torino after being frozen out at Manchester City.

Southgate will be without defender Phil Jagielka, who has pulled out of the squad to face Malta and Slovenia with a thigh strain.

That leaves only Gary Cahill, Michael Keane, Chris Smalling and John Stones as England's centre-back options.

England will hope to erase the lingering stain of Sam Allardyce's embarrassing exit when they take on Malta.

Just 12 days after Allardyce was forced to quit in disgrace following his indiscreet and offensive comments to undercover newspaper reporters, Southgate and his players desperately need to deliver a positive performance to restore some lustre to the English game's tarnished reputation.

When Southgate fills out the team sheet ahead of the Group F clash at Wembley, he will become the third England manager to undertake that task in the country's last three fixtures.

He cannot be expected to work miracles in his temporary role but Malta, who were thrashed 5-1 by Scotland in their first qualifier, should be ideal opposition to get his reign off to a winning start before the trickier trip to Slovenia.

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ENGLAND V MALTA

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2016, with the headline 'Southgate may gamble with Rooney in midfield'. Print Edition | Subscribe