After their impressive win over Holland on Friday there was always the danger that a much changed England team would deflate expectations with a poor performance, as happened 2 years ago when victory over Germany in Berlin was followed a few days later by a home loss to Holland.
As it turned out this was a decent England performance that probably merited a win but bookended by two poor five-minute spells. Southgate made 5 changes to the side with Jack Butland getting his audition in goal, Ashley Young getting his first England start in over 5 years at left-back, James Tarkowski getting his debut in defence, Eric Dier replaced Jordan Henderson and Jamie Vardy partnered Raheem Sterling in attack.
But England made a horror start with John Stones pickpocketed by Ciro Immobile, fortunately Immobile left his shooting boots in his Lazio locker and blazed over after 4 minutes. Italy quickly settled into their passing game and a pinpoint Antonio Candreva found Immobile free in the box but he again ballooned over the bar.
England could easily have been 3 down inside 20 minutes but slowly they got their passing game going and their high press started to trouble Italy. After 24 minutes Sterling played through Vardy who forced a smart stop from Gianluigi Donnarumma as England started to build pressure and within 2 minutes it paid off. Sterling pressed a mistake and ran at the Italian defence forcing a free kick, it was quickly taken by Lingard and with the Italians caught napping Vardy found himself free to blast home 1-0.
Sterling and Young were combining well down the left although clear-cut chances were few. Just before halftime a reckless challenge from Young gifted Italy a dangerous free kick on the left but England held firm with Stones now recovered from his early lapses and the half ended 1-0.
The second half opened in calmer fashion with Immobile and Oxlade-Chamberlain trading half chances and after 55 minutes the predictable raft of changes began with Adam Lallana coming on for his first England cap of the season and showed his trademark deft touches as England probed for a second goal. But Italy lead by the ever outstanding Leonardo Bonucci held firm.
But the introductions of Andrea Belotti & Federico Chiesa saw Italy grow in ambition and bright number 10 Lorenzo Insigne flashed a dangerous cross come shot across the England goal then on 83 minutes came the game’s major talking point.
Chiesa chased onto a through ball and went to ground in a tangle with Tarkowski. The referee initially awarded a corner but after consulting the VAR replay spotted Tarkowski had stood on Chiesa’s ankle and pointed to the penalty spot. Was it a clear and obvious refereeing mistake as VAR is there to correct? Probably not but it was a foul and had the referee been front and centre during the offence he would have awarded the penalty. Insigne gave Butland no chance from the spot 1-1.
England pushed for a winner with substitutes Danny Rose & Lewis Cook providing creativity from the left but defensively England started to wobble again and the game slowed into a 1-1 draw.
Ultimately this game will be remembered for the VAR moment and whilst this performance wasn’t as good as we saw on Friday night it still showed an England team moving in the right direction.
From their 4 prestigious friendlies of the season England have gone unbeaten, established a clear system and style of play and blooded a glut of new players. With the final World Cup squad to be announced ahead of June’s warm up games it seems Southgate has made his key decisions and must now hope for an injury free end to the club season.
Jack Butland 6- Not seriously tested and given no chance with the penalty. But we can conclude Pickford’s distribution skills are better suited to England’s short defensive passing game.
Kieran Trippier 6- Quiet but effective, if Walker stays in the back 3 then Trippier starts in Russia.
Ashley Young 7- A positive night from Young, more assured than Rose and far more dynamic than Bertrand, combined well with Sterling and equally at home down the right- booked his place for the summer!
Kyle Walker 7.5- Another assured display in his new role, his recovery speed is a huge asset in the back 3.
John Stones 6- Awful for the opening 10 minutes but recovered well to deliver an assured 60 minutes. Certain to start this summer but for all his improvements the mistakes can still happen.
James Tarkowski 5.5- Showed good distribution skills but his naive push on an Italian defender from a promising free kick and the penalty incident show he faces a steep learning curve at international level. Will get more chances but I suspect they’ll cone next season.
Eric Dier 6- Solid but not the constant starter of passing moves Henderson was against Holland. A squad certainty but no longer a guaranteed starter.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain 6- Struggled without clubmate Henderson in midfield but still a threat going forward and worked well with Lingard
Jesse Lingard 7- 2 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, 1 ticket to Russia confirmed! Lingard needed to show he can transplant his improved club form onto the international stage and did just that.
Raheem Sterling 8- Again England’s most dynamic player, his renewed belief is seeing him take on defenders and provide a creative spark to the team, if he could just get that goal scoring touch back he has found for City this season.
Jamie Vardy 7- Brilliant strike for the goal and a constant menace with his pace, if Kane is off colour this summer England have a great plan b.
Adam Lallana 6- Showed his trademark touch and busied himself but still short of fitness.
Lewis Cook 6- Got his debut and made his Grandad a lot of money at the bookies! Combined well with Rose and no shortage of hustle, is it enough to make the plane?
Marcus Rashford 5- Not as effective off the bench as hoped but will always bother defenders with his pace.
Danny Rose 6- An improvement on Amsterdam and 2 nice runs at the Italian defence show why he’s still a better option than Ryan Bertrand.
Jordan Henderson 5- Little time to make an impact.
Football fan, follower of England, Leeds and will watch any game possible (between raising twins!)