England's manager needs to look at different formations, new players and ways of developing a fluid passing game
All things considered, it is probably for the best that so many of Roy Hodgson's players to face Italy were spared what happened against the same opposition when the teams last met and, for England, the ordeal started even before the penalties that took them out of Euro 2012.
Hodgson's squad includes only three players — Joleon Lescott, Ashley Young and James Milner — who started against Italy in that quarter-final in Kiev seven weeks ago, when the Azzurri were so much more refined on the ball it barely seems plausible that England are the bookmakers' favourites for the rematch.
What happens from now on is the basis on which the Hodgson era will ultimately be judged and, although the first part of his rebuilding may not amount to a revolution, or even come close, there are at least indications that he recognises there is a need for change.
This will be "a new start", to use the England manager's words, with the emphasis on giving some younger players a chance. Hodgson's experimentation is restricted a little because of the six-substitute rule, but Jack Butland, Tom Cleverley, Jake Livermore and Steven Caulker should all have realistic aspirations of some involvement. Frank Lampard and Lescott will provide familiarity and experience, while Michael Carrick returns for the first time since May 2010. But the main theme of this trip is very much on building for the future.
To be precise, that means the World Cup in 2014, which is really the only time a fair assessment can be made of Hodgson's tenure. Certainly it is unreasonable to judge him purely on what happened in the summer.
As Lampard put it: "The manager went into the Euros with a couple of weeks' build-up. He isn't naive. He's one of the most travelled England managers we've ever had and has seen Italian and international football first-hand at many levels. We'll see the real development of his team over the next two years."
More than anything there is a fundamental need for Hodgson's players to start taking better care of the ball, something that can hardly be stressed enough when, to recap, England had only 36% of the ball against Italy in the summer, and their best passing combination turned out to be Joe Hart to Andy Carroll, a 60th-minute substitute, with a long punt that came off 15 times.
In total England had 320 passes compared with Italy's 815. The shot-count was 35-9 in favour of their opponents. Andrea Pirlo put together more passes, 117, than England's entire midfield quartet of Milner, Young, Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker. Uefa's official website described England as "outclassed." In the circumstances it was probably no surprise that Hodgson did not want to pore over it in great detail. "It's been, it's gone; some success, some failure," he said. "It was an interesting experience to begin my [England] career. But let's see what happens now. I don't want to keep going back to the Euros — it's a question now of what we can do for the future."
In that respect it was encouraging to learn that Hodgson has already started with the business of trying to find a more expansive playing style, apparently recognising that his 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 system was too rigid in the summer, with not enough fluency.
The players worked on this in their training session in the stadium, with the coaching staff encouraging more movement and interchanging of positions. "Once you encourage that movement, as the manager did in training today, 4-4-1-1 can quickly become a 4-2-3-1," Lampard said. "We just need to be able to adapt, and I think you'll see that. He [Hodgson]isn't going to introduce something that's a straitjacket for us."
The picture will start to become a lot clearer when England take on Moldova and Ukraine in their first World Cup qualifiers next month, rather than in a friendly against an Italy side that will also feature a number of wholesale changes. Yet there is clearly an appetite to develop a more free-flowing system.
Hodgson reiterated that he would always prefer an orthodox back four to three centre-halves. "But the front six, and what you do with them, is very interesting. There are a lot of variations and permutations there.
"You've got to pass the ball well. We do have high-quality players with good technique and I hope they can bring that technique on to the field for us. I don't have a magical formula that will suddenly change what we were trying to do in the Euros and revolutionise things overnight. But I am pretty convinced there is much more in our locker that we still have to show."
Hodgson has sought to resolve the issue of his team's passing by recalling Carrick. He still has to show, having turned 31 last month, that he can be a key player in the games that truly matter. All the same Carrick is a splendid distributor of the ball, particularly when it comes to collecting possession from defence. This type of player should be welcomed back, even if it does seem slightly retro. It says a lot about England over the past two years that 54 different players have appeared for the national team since Carrick's last game.
Theo Walcott's withdrawal with a bruised thigh, suffered in Arsenal's friendly against Cologne on Sunday, has reduced Hodgson's options in wide positions, especially as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has already pulled out.
That leaves Milner and Young as the obvious candidates to start on the wings, with Carrick and Lampard providing the central-midfield partnership, making way for younger replacements in the second half.
Hodgson's options are even more sparse in attack but clearly he retains his confidence in Carroll even at a time when it is well known that Liverpool want to move him on.
Carroll will start in attack and the hope this time is that England will get the ball to him in a more refined way than the last occasion.