Gareth Southgate confirmed that Wayne Rooney will captain England against Malta in a World Cup qualifier on Saturday while Theo Walcott will make his first start since last October.
Walcott has been in superb form for Arsenal so far this season, scoring five goals in eight appearances, having drafted in assistance from a personal fitness coach and sports psychologist to help rediscover his best form.
Interim boss Southgate, who took the reins last week after Sam Allardyce’s departure, backed Walcott to shine at Wembley Stadium and Sky sources understand Rooney will play in midfield in the World Cup Group F qualifier.
“Wayne will start, but no, I can’t [give any more information],” Southgate said. “I know everyone is keen to know the team early.”
“The players are aware of the team and I’m sure it will leak out – I know that’s what happens – but I don’t see the point in giving the opposition the advantage of knowing our team. I think Wayne will bring his ability to control games, and his experience.
“I was told I had to bring someone who’s starting [to the press conference]. It’s a giveaway that Theo is here and, yes, he will start tomorrow, and it’s a good moment for him.
“He’s in superb form for his club and, as an international manager, it’s your idea to have players who are playing well.
“He’s maturing well as a player and he should feel confident because everything I’ve seen with his club suggests that will continue.”
Walcott, who has only made three starts for England in the last three years, insists that his return to good form is down to himself despite the extra help, and the team has been working hard to do well for Southgate in his first game.
“Football is going well at this moment in time,” Walcott said. “We know how it all can change, but I don’t want this frame of mind to stop, to be honest.”
“I’m working tremendously hard and I just want to be better. It just comes down to really hard work; things that add up in the week that you don’t have to think much about come match-day, because you know you’ve done everything.
“[The extra help] would help, obviously, but it comes down to myself and how determined I am to do it, and continue doing it. It can be easy to take your foot of the gas slightly when things are going well, but I’ve been around the game for a long time and I don’t want that to happen at all.”