Sunday 26 January 2020

Wayne Rooney's observational skills earn him start for England against Malta

Wayne Rooney is set to start for England against Malta
Wayne Rooney is set to start for England against Malta

England captain Wayne Rooney will start against Malta having impressed interim manager Gareth Southgate with his observational qualities as much as his leadership.

The country's all-time top-scorer will play under his sixth international manager on Saturday, with the Under-21s boss drafted in after Sam Allardyce's ill-fated 67-day reign.

Southgate confirmed on the eve of the World Cup qualifier with Malta that Rooney will win his 117th cap as England return to Wembley for the first time since Euro 2016.

It will be a welcome start having been dropped to the bench for Manchester United's past three matches, with the interim boss saying he offers far more than continuity and leadership.

"I've got to look at the balance of the team and I've got to look at the squad that we have," Southgate said. "The balance of personalities, leadership that you want.

"We've got a couple of players also that are coming back from injury, that we have to look across the two games in this particular instance.

"There's any number of reasons and rationale that go into your thinking when you are selecting the team.

"But I'm really happy with the way all the squad have trained this week and I am looking forward to seeing the guys play."

Rooney, as always, will be closely scrutinised on Saturday, when his position within the side is sure to be a talking point.

This week the 30-year-old reiterated his desire to transition from forward to midfielder but Southgate would not be drawn on his role against Malta.

"My belief is he can play in several different positions," he said. "I think what's stood out for me this week is his observations on the game.

"He's somebody that clearly studies the game very, very closely and I think his observations have really impressed me.

"His leadership of the group has really impressed me, his maturity

"You know, I couldn't be happier with his approach to things, for sure."

Rooney will be joined in the line-up on Saturday by Theo Walcott, but Southgate was unwilling to give away any more.

Injuries to Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling may have helped his cause, but the 27-year-old is in compelling form on his own merits.

"It's a good moment for him," Southgate said. "He's in superb form for his club and as an international manager your ideal is to have people in the squad who are playing well.

"He's maturing hugely as a player and he should feel full of confidence because everything I've seen suggests he's going to continue that."

PA Media

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