Wayne Rooney will start for England against Malta on Saturday, interim manager Gareth Southgate has confirmed.
The Manchester United captain has lost his starting role at Old Trafford, but Southgate will have Rooney in his XI for the World Cup qualifier at Wembley.
Theo Walcott also has a place in the lineup after scoring four times in as many games for Arsenal, but Southgate did not reveal the rest of the team to face the minnows.
Southgate confirmed that Rooney would start as captain, but not where he would play. Asked what sort of role Rooney would play, Southgate said: “A good one I hope.
“I know everyone is keen to know the team early. I know the team will leak out, but I don’t see the advantage of giving the team to the opposition.”
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.”
Southgate was also asked what the advantages of playing Rooney would bring.
“His ability to control the games,” he said. “I think this will be a game where we have a lot of the ball in midfield. In the last few matches, Malta have had 35, 40 percent of the ball, so I expect us to control the game, so we need to show patience and stick to our principles of play.
“I want us to be brave with the ball — that’s one of the messages I’ve given the team this week, that I want to see an England team that will be brave with possession and take chances, prepared to risk in one v one situations.”
Asked about what thought went into his selections, 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.”
Southgate said that Walcott’s form for Arsenal made it hard to ignore him in making his selection.
“It’s a good moment for him,” the caretaker boss said. “He’s in superb form for his club, and as an international manager your ideal is to have players who are playing well.
“He’s maturing hugely as a player and he should be full of confidence, because everything I’ve seen suggests that he’s going to continue that form.”
Arsenal winger Walcott, who at the age of 17 made his England debut against Hungary over a decade ago, echoed Southgate’s call for the Three Lions to express themselves against Malta.
The 44-cap player said: “It’s a completely new bunch of players, who’ve got a lot more experience following the disappointment of the Euros, and we’re wanting to put that right.
“Seeing how everyone is around the place and how we’ve trained… there’s no reason why we can’t do better.
“Having that support behind us, we’re going to just go for it and be brave.
“You do the things that get you to play for England in the first place. You want the right attributes to come out so you can express yourself in games and if we can do that, it’ll bode well for the future.”
When asked if Southgate had a “nasty streak,” the 27-year-old laughed, before adding: “We haven’t really seen it yet!
“As long as we perform well hopefully we won’t see it, but if everyone’s not completely ready then that side of us will have to come out.
“It comes from the players as well. There are a lot of leaders in that dressing room and if someone’s not doing something right then we won’t be afraid to tell them.
“It’s important that if you see something on the pitch that isn’t working, you take note and try and change it yourself if you can.”
After scoring twice against Basel in the Champions League, Walcott is eager to keep that form going in an England shirt.
He said: “I’m not going to dwell on what I’ve done in the past. It’s all about the next game. I’ve set myself standards this year which I don’t want to drop and I won’t drop them cos that’s just the frame of mind I’m in.”