1 Hodgson has earned supporters’ patience for the campaign ahead
There were few fireworks in Basel and it is also worth pondering that Switzerland, only sporadically threatening, were perhaps not the behemoth presented by Fifa’s world rankings. Their World Cup showings did not suggest a side with exceptional strength beyond two or three outstanding individuals, after all, but Roy Hodgson can be justified in believing that he and England got it right. There was no need to play like Norway, whatever one’s interpretation of that might be, against a home side that was strangely tentative at the outset. England were not over-ambitious themselves but were intelligent in seeking to expose the Swiss back line and, in general, painstaking in their attention to the hosts’ danger men. It always felt that Hodgson was on a hiding to nothing in last week’s Norway friendly, which was met with scant enthusiasm at the outset. It is now best to give him some breathing space.
2 England’s pace can defeat the best when harnessed
There was evidence of it in what now seem the more innocent days of that World Cup defeat by Italy; there had been glimpses, too, in the first half in Basel. England’s attack has pace to burn and, if it can be matched regularly with cohesion, few will be able to live with it. That is still an “if” – Welbeck and Sterling both made poor decisions before the break after their speed had taken them clear – but the Arsenal forward’s goal showed exactly what is possible when all three attackers are in sync. The transition from Wayne Rooney to Raheem Sterling to Danny Welbeck was clean, clinical and never going to be halted by a labouring Swiss defence whose obvious sluggishness was targeted instantly. When Daniel Sturridge is fit, and if Welbeck can keep his form up, England’s options will have afterburners to spare. It may be worth remembering the optimism that sprouted after that Italy fixture, and that it was a mere four games ago.
3 Inler showed Wilshere the way to police a midfield at the highest level
There would be little to gain in singling Jack Wilshere out for criticism; his performance was not poor and moments such as his 10th-minute ball to Rooney – which one could not help feeling the captain would have taken first-time when feeling his best – spoke of his passing range. A burst early in the second half, when a shot deflected only just wide, was a welcome assertive touch and could usefully have been added to. Wilshere’s counterpart at the base of Switzerland’s midfield, the captain Gökhan Inler, cannot always match the 22-year-old’s technical gifts but gave a lesson in proactive, head-up patrolling of what was often a congested central area. Notable about Inler, who makes himself available and sets the tempo from deep in the way Wilshere has done in the past with Arsenal, is the way in which he uses his frame to screen the ball from opponents before setting off; physical tact is something Wilshere needs to add if he is to dominate games.
4 Fabian Delph recovered his cool to contribute valuably
The Aston Villa man was a horse for a course: he has operated in a 4-3-3 domestically under Paul Lambert, covers an exceptional amount of ground and looks after the ball carefully. A promising opening, in which he made a strong run down the left and popped a couple of decent balls to his front men, threatened to unravel when consecutive lunges on Valon Behrami and Stephan Lichtsteiner earned him a yellow card and a subsequent slide – after he had ill-advisedly let the ball run – caused concern. But Delph knuckled down on his first start and looked more positive after the break, causing problems with bursts down the left and perhaps being unlucky not to win a penalty. He also played a part in subduing Xherdan Shaqiri and can be happy with his night’s work.
5 This was as tense as things will get for the next 21 months
If the watered-down qualifying competition spawned by the European Championships’ expansion has one benefit, it should be that many coaches have the freedom to iterate their way to a desirable formula without having to compromise on their ideals in tense, tight ties. That is, of course, a generous reading of the situation: England and Switzerland go their separate ways now in the knowledge that, when they meet again at Wembley next September, it ought to be all over bar the shouting – with Slovenia, Lithuania, Estonia and San Marino unlikely to offer much more than fleeting curiosity. It is a shame that it has come to this and it was noticeable that the atmosphere inside a usually boisterous St Jakob Park never really hit the heights that it can. England’s only test of real import is out of the way and was, with a few obvious caveats, passed; no one would presume to suggest that 10 wins are already in the bag but this may well be as interesting as the campaign will get.