England play Ecuador at SunLife Stadium in Miami on Wednesday with Roy Hodgson set to make plenty of alterations for his penultimate World Cup warm up match.
One of the most interesting changes Hodgson will make is deploying Wayne Rooney out on the left wing.
The Manchester United forward missed the last few weeks of the Premier League season through injury and looked a little rusty in his first game back since April when England beat Peru 3-0 at Wembley last Friday.
Rooney, 28, is heading into his third World Cup with England and many feel it is time he delivered on the biggest stage.
He failed to score at the World Cup in 2010 and 2006 in two England teams that were stacked with talent. Heading into the 2014 World Cup, Rooney is clearly England’s main man and the Three Lions need him to shine in Brazil.
Having Rooney out wide on the left will allow him to cut in and create chances from deep-lying positions. Even though the United forward has scored 38 goals in 90 games for England, his ability to pick out a pass and lay on assists can’t be underestimated. During the 2013-14 season Rooney compiled 10 assists, the third most in the PL. He has been tried out on the left for club and country in the past but it has never really worked out.
However with Daniel Sturridge scoring a beauty against Peru last week and the Liverpool striker coming off a red-hot season where he scored 24 goals for the Reds, it seems as though Hodgson is only going to select one forward in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Right now, Rooney will not be the long target man.
Let’s see how he fares out on the left flank against Ecuador.
For a lot of us, that meant delving into statistics and seeing what matched the eye test. Many started Googling the name “N'Golo Kante“, the dynamic disruptor who’d move to Chelsea in August.
He’s a household name now, with some personalities even arguing that he should buck the trend of Ballon d’Or nominees including only major statistic producers (There was a time when names like Fabio Cannavaro and Matthias Sammer claimed the honor, you know).
For our purposes, we’ll use a pair of advanced stats sites and the good ol’ eye test. (Of the sites we’re using, Squawka seems to skew toward high attack scores, while WhoScored tilts a bit toward the back, so life is good if a player hits both sites’ Top 50).
Before getting into our team — we promise no 10-picture, click-to-reveal-next stuff — some stats that stood out.
— Three players have had outstanding “short” seasons for different reasons.
Leicester City’s Wilfried Ndidi took a short spell to adjust to the Premier League after arriving in January, but has been the Foxes’ most influential player in their recent turnaround).
Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake essentially was the Cherries’ first-half success before heading back to Chelsea where Antonio Conte won’t move him ahead of Marcos Alonso or Victor Moses (and that’s actually understandable as you’ll see below).
Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas just doesn’t feature a ton for Conte, but in limited time his per-90 stats on Squawka trail only Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez.
Ander Herrera (Manchester United, 7.44, 36.64) – Long-heralded at Athletic Bilbao, Herrera is finally showing what made him so sought. One odd stat that may be explained by his willingness to run to any situation: he’s very high in average times dribbled past.
Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton, 7.34, 20.57) – The best player in Aston Villa’s awful 2015-16, he’s been arguably as effective as N’Golo Kante. Seriously.
Matt Phillips (West Bromwich Albion) – Once the top player on a relegated QPR, Phillips is fifth in the Premier League in assists despite missing the last four matches with injury.
Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur, 7.41, 31.89) – Second in the PL in key passes, he doesn’t get the plaudits of English teammates Dele Alli and Harry Kane. The relationships are very symbiotic.
Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace, 7.44) – On an under-achieving team, Zaha’s statistics are wild. He’s the most-fouled player in the league, and attempts/completes the most dribbles in the PL. He gives the ball away a lot, too, but that happens when you’re the focal point of everything your team does in the attacking third.
Alex Iwobi (Arsenal, 30.54) – The Nigerian turns 21 in May, and has four goals and seven assists across all competitions.
“[Ibrahimovic] is a genius, he’s very intense because he wants to win everything, even football-tennis,” Herrera said to Radio MARCA.
“He assumes this role of doing or saying what he likes in front of the media because he does not care, he can say that he’ll score 30 goals or is the best because he can afford to.”
There’s certainly something to stature when it comes to saying what you feel (though on the other hand, being egotistical is rarely controversial. It’s not like Ibrahimovic is often railing on controversial soccer or social issues).
We’re sure there are plenty of players across all sports, casual and professional, who don’t understand hyper-competitive teammates, but we love a guy who doesn’t turn it down when it comes to on-the-field activities. Hopefully Ibrahimovic is the Jaromir Jagr of soccer.