England manager Roy Hodgson singled out midfielder Ross Barkley for special praise after an impressive performance in Friday’s 2-0 win over Estonia at Wembley.
Theo Walcott and Raheem Sterling got the goals to make it nine wins from nine in Euro 2016 qualification but Barkley was named man-of-the-match after a strong display in Hodgson’s midfield.
Barkley’s balanced performance included the assist for Walcott’s opener and left Hodgson impressed, with the England boss suggesting the Everton man is starting to come of age.
“It’s not often that I really contest people’s choice of man-of-the-match. He wasn’t the only one that deserved a mention but I’m pleased Ross got it,” he told reporters.
“He showed what he can do. We tried to take the ball to them and through them and I thought he and Sterling were the classic exponents of that.
“I think he should regard himself as a midfield player. When I watch him at Everton, he often plays as a number 10 but we think he’s got more strings to his bow.
“We need to use him like we did today as one of the three midfield players. He is perfectly comfortable with that and the more exposure he gets in both positions will suit him going forward.
“I’ve been critical of all players for giving the ball away and I’ve had to work with him like all managers on his decision making, when he struts his stuff and when he plays more simply. That’s coaching to make sure a player with incredible ability chooses his moments.
“I don’t think I can ever be accused of having anything other than utmost faith in him. He’s worked on it for well over a year and he is learning by playing at the very highest level.”
James Milner, Michael Carrick, Gary Cahill, Wayne Rooney and Joe Hart will all be left behind for Sunday’s trip to Lithuania, with Jack Butland set to start in goal while Jonjo Shelvey will be given another run-out in midfield.
Assessing Friday’s victory, Hodgson added: “We won. That’s a major positive. We knew it would be a hard 90 minutes and we would have to keep going. We started very, very well and we knew we had to be patient and persistent.
“I think we were unlucky that we didn’t score a few more goals but the most important thing is the victory, our ninth out of nine. I don’t understand the ranking system but that means we’re going to be seeded for the European Championships and that is going to be very important.
“Gary Cahill has occasional back problems and we were a bit concerned with the flight and the artificial pitch. Joe Hart is being left behind against his will because I want to play Jack Butland. James Milner deserves a rest and I want to play Jonjo Shelvey.
“Carrick had a fitness test but he still feels it when he opens out his leg to play sideways passes. I think the rest will do him good. I’m fully expecting to see Michael and Wayne Rooney fully fit for Manchester United next Sunday.”