With the Premier League having started and Manchester United getting off to a superb start, many fans may have groaned at the prospect of a break in the schedule for the international fixtures, some out of a fear of their club heroes possibly picking up injuries whilst others perhaps loathe to pay full attention to the national side. Nevertheless there was much to be anticipated, with the prospect of involvement of three of United’s superb starters this season; Cleverley, Jones and Smalling. In the end it was only Smalling who found himself with a place starting the game at right back, although the exploits of both Jones and Cleverley have clearly not gone unnoticed. Of course, both Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young found themselves with starting berths on what became a successful trip away for Capello’s men, coming away with a 3-0 victory, bouncing back appropriately from the disappointing at failing to defeat Switzerland in the last round of fixtures. And so, on a night that generally went without hitch, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) Gary Cahill’s selection was justified
With such strong form domestically that had led to strong transfer speculation with the likes of Tottenham and Arsenal, it was inevitable that Cahill would be given his chance to shine on the international stage, an opportunity that he appeared to grasp firmly as he put in a strong performance partnering John Terry at the heart of the England defense, keeping a clean sheet and opening the scoring. In fact the fact that he got on the scoresheet may well have been the most encouraging aspect as his defensive capabilities may come with a more expectant standard. Able to find the net early, he was able to latch on to Gareth Barry’s cross and apply the finish to give England the start they needed. With an impressive start, it is more than likely he will be given more regular chances to make his mark in the England side and if he remains consistent then one must admit a strong likelihood that he has every chance of making himself first choice for the central defensive role.
2) Wayne Rooney’s form continued for England
After a blistering start to the season for Manchester United, many England fans will have been hoping that his sublime form at Old Trafford would translate into success for the national team, and on Friday night he gave a glimpse that that may well be the case, leading the line as a lone striker up front, grabbing two goals to give his side a 3-0 lead going into the break. The first was a headed effort from Stewart Downing’s cross and the second was the finishing touches to a counter-attacking move involving Theo Walcott and Ashley Young to wrap up the scoring before half time, at which point the scores remained unchanged. Considering the dry spell Rooney had been suffering for England of late, Capello will have been buoyed by seeing his main striker get on the scoresheet, in and amongst the goals.
3) Chris Smalling’s international debut at right back
Considering the strong impression Smalling has made at right back at the start of the season, and having caught the eye of Capello with such performances for United, it was little surprise that he was given the nod to take a starting place at right back against Bulgaria. In a side where this position has been somewhat difficult to fill, it will be an idea that is welcomed if he were to take up this place permanently and, if successful, find himself a permanent fixture within the England set up. Indeed, Smalling’s improvement since joining United has taken many by surprise, no doubt partly through the good work of the coaching staff as well as the player’s own willingness to work hard and focus on parts of his game to make him stronger all round. Although Friday’s game may not have provided the best occasion to showcase his talents, given the lack of attacking threat posed by the Bulgarian side, there were nonetheless, glimpses of what might be if given regular games, particularly in his ability to get forward and put in a dangerous cross that is difficult to defend.
4) Frank Lampard may struggle to regain a starting place
With the likes of Jack Wilshere and Tom Cleverley coming through the ranks, as well as the impressive displays by the likes of Barry and Parker in the centre of midfield, many may agree that it seems Lampard is no longer guaranteed a place in the England side. With the later pairing being preferred to start on Friday night, Lampard found himself left on the bench, with Capello keen to stress that those who do not perform will not find themselves starting based on name alone. With players such as Steven Gerrard yet to return and the possibility that Owen Hargreaves (too far?) may return, it is clear that the competition for places is strong and those that fail to make their mark may see themselves make way for others to have a chance.
5) Monkey Chants – Beyond Disgust
It is unfortunate that players such as Ashley Cole and Young find themselves subjected to vile chants such as these. Indeed any player regardless of profile should not have to be targeted with such discriminatory chanting that has not truly been stamped out despite numerous campaigns. On the only true sour note of the evening, it is a shame that once again a European game is overshadowed by opposition fans with such poor attitudes.