Category: Match Reports- England

Lithuania 0-1 England: Baby steps of progress

With World Cup qualification confirmed in Thursdays snoozeathon at Wembley this dead rudder was a friendly in all but make.

Gareth Southgate’s pattern as manager has been to go low risk in qualifying and experiment in the friendlies. For the qualifiers Southgate has identified his best players (Kane, Lallana, Walker, Alli and latterly Rashford) and fill the gaps with the most experienced team players available (Hart, Cahill, Bertrand, Henderson). The result has been dull but solid with qualification never seriously in doubt. It’s been unpleasant viewing but probably the correct approach- Steve McClaren went for bold changes in qualifying and look how that turned out!

With nothing at stake Southgate switched to a 3-4-3 and made 7 personnel changes including debuts for Harrys Maguire & Winks.

Let’s be honest this was never likely to be a classic, this had the feel of a Europa League away tie (minus tension).

England started well and after 5 minutes an excellent Aaron Cresswell cross was almost headed home by Maguire. England were very neat and tidy but struggled to provide any penetration. Again Cresswell from a set piece saw England go close- his teasing cross fell to Michael Keane who struck a half volley just wide. On 27 minutes England made the breakthrough when a Alli one two with Jordan Henderson invited a clumsy challenge and from the resulting penalty Kane dispatched into the left hand corner 1-0.

If fans were hoping this would spur England on and force the Lithuanians to abandon their back 8-1-1 formation they were soon disappointed as the half petered out.

Lithuania started the second half on the front foot and got off a few potshots. At the other end Cresswell dug out another good cross which eluded Kane but fell to Winks on the edge of the box who forced a good save. The Lithuanian’s started to open up and a neat cross saw Keane almost put the ball through his own net but was saved by a smart Butland stop. The game started to wind down with a full 20 minutes to go with a few neat breaks from Lithuania and sub Daniel Sturbridge making a nuisance of himself but clear cut chances were few and far between. But a neat lofted ball from Winks almost put Maguire in for a debut goal but it didn’t come off and it finished 1-0.

Ultimately this wasn’t a good performance but it was a bit better than Thursday night and we could see some reason for cautious optimism in the performances of Winks and Maguire whilst Cresswell provided some quality from the left, it was however a disjointed performance with neat moments of skill not quite coming off and long periods of sideways passing.

It’s been a strange week in English football. I’ll write another piece about the media reaction and some of the good, bad and idiotic points raised. The England senior side are in a dark place at the moment- it’s odd to be writing that in the week they qualified for a World Cup but it’s true. However the performance of Winks hinted at better days to come. On the same day England’s under 17s opened their World Cup campaign by thumping Chile 4-0 with Jadon Sancho yet again looking a superstar in the making.

England have got the talent but we need to be patient, for now setting a nucleus in place and improving the side enough to give the kids a stage to play on has to be the goal. Lowering our immediate expectations and looking for improvement is where we stand as fans right now.

One thing recent England games have reminded me of was the pre Meszut Ozil Germany team of 2009. At the time Germany looked a compact functional side who Capello’s high flying England easily dispatched in a friendly that autumn. Then of course Ozil was promoted from the Under 21s who provided incision and creativity and set the Germans on the road to success.

I’m not saying Winks is going to be Ozil (besides Pochettino reckons he’s more like Iniesta!) but bringing through the young creative talents is the best way forward as England make small steps forward.

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England 1-0 Slovenia: Kane sends England stumbling to St Petersburg.

This was supposed to be a party- the moment Gareth Southgate’s England would play some flowing football and storm to Russia. But England qualifying games are rarely that simple. For those who’ve been living on Mars since Sunday night a win would take England through and a draw would be enough if Slovakia failed to beat Scotland.

England started confidently with Sterling in his revised number 10 role causing the Slovenians problems as England dominated possession without creating a clear cut chance. Then in the 8th minute Sterling gave the ball away in midfield and Slovenian danger man Ilicic broke into the England box and was clipped by Hart- fortunately for England the referee saw it as a collision rather than a foul- a let off.

The spanner it through in the works knocked England out of their stride and a loose period of play saw England continuously give the ball away and snuggle to regain their early composure.

As was the case last month against Slovakia it was Rashford who got England going again, a darting run down the left jangled Slovenian nerves and a neat cross almost put Cahill in. Then in the 20th minute the temperature raised after some agricultural defending from the Slovenians and England started to move up the gears. England’s first clear sight of goal came from Henderson in the 25th minute who broke into the box and hit an angled shot that drew a good save from Oblak.

By now Rashford was enjoying himself and playing with the impudence of a schoolboy but the defensive problems continued as Slovenia consistently found gaps between England’s midfield and defence. in the 34th minute Sterling drew a poor challenge from holding midfielder Krhin just outside the box, bit despite the promising central position of the ensuing free kick England opted for the less than prolific Walker to take it, needless to say he blazed it over the bar. Before long Krhin was booked as Slovenia’s defending grew ever more clumsy, but England continued to labour. The last action of the first half inevitably centre on Rashford whose trickery drew a foul and he forced a smart save from Oblak with the ensuing free kick and then a flick on from Cahill with the ensuing corner but with no reward 0-0 at half time

Slovenia started the second half the sharper and Ilicic swung in a cross that left back Jokic headed tamely at Hart. But the game settled back into the pattern of the first half with Slovenia looking tidy with their limited possession and England slow and ponderous whilst keeping it for longer spells. The crowd became firstly bored and then restless as Walker gave away a needless chance and Slovenia again grew in ambition.

Finally on 62 minutes England showed some pace when a quick break from a Slovenia corner saw Sterling feed Rashford who tried to chip the keeper but didn’t get enough on the ball, minutes later another quick move down the left saw Sterling shoot from the centre of the box and force a desperate clearance from Cesar.

The introduction of Lingard for the ineffective Oxlade-Chamberlain gave England the impetus as he linked well with Sterling and Rashford to unsettle Slovenia’s defence and again down the left Rashford created a chance for Kane who’s angled shot flew wide.

But the drab shapeless look soon returned and on 82 minutes some awful officiating saw a foul on Lingard go unpunished then from the ensuing break an offside missed forcing Hart into an excellent double save.

The most entertainment in the closing stages looked like being provided by a paper aeroplane and a (fully clothed) pitch invader, until the 4th official weirdly found 6 minutes of injury time that initially sounded like a punishment for the crowd for laughing at the pitch invasion. But suddenly England found some thrust and the otherwise awful Walker pounced on a poor clearance and whipped in a cross which Kane toe-poked home 1-0 on 93 minutes, 5 minutes later England’s qualification was confirmed.

This game was like a visit to the dentist: awkward painful but with the necceasary work completed. Clearly there’s plenty to work on and the media bullsh$t started in earnest when Ian Wright pointed out how much harder Northern Ireland’s group is (that’s because England are ranked higher than Northern Ireland, Ian!) But the bare minimum requirement has been met and for the next 8 months that will have to do.

Player Ratings

Hart 7- Lucky not to concede a penalty in the early stages and had little to do until his brilliant double save.

Walker 5- Awful until injury time. Started brightly but quickly faded, gave away 2 good chances when he suffered brain farts both by knocking aimless balls into gaping holes in England’s defence. But made amends with his powerful runs in injury time and finally a great cross which Kane dispatched.

Bertrand 6- Solid in defence (as usual) and linked well with Rashford. Edging ever closer to being first choice left back.

Dier 5- Frankly awful, provided little defence stability and ponderous on the ball.

Cahill 6- Solid against nobody for the most part, occasionally threatening at the over end but little to write home about.

Stones 6- As above but little sign of his ball playing skills- his one forward thrust saw him miscontrol and pick up a booking.

Sterling 6- Some early incision and drew some fouls with his footwork but not comfortable as a number 10. Played far better in the final third of the game when played on the right.

Henderson 5- forced a good save from Oblak but like Dier provided neither defensive stability nor attacking incision, how is he in the running for the captaincy?

Kane 6- Had to feed off scraps as England struggled to create chances. Worked hard and took his chance when it finally arrived.

Rashford 8- Creative, quick and the best player in a white shirt by a long distance. One negative was his dodgy set piece delivery.

Oxlade-Chamberlain 5- Early zip quickly disintegrated. Hooked early in the second half. Will be dropped in Lithuania.

Subs

Lingard 7- Bright and linked well with Sterling and Rashford.

Keane n/a Touched the ball at some stage, I think.

 

 

 

Malta 0-4 England 3 points and not much else.

These are the least fun internationals to watch, it’s literally a Premier a league club playing a full strength aside away to Crawley Town.

Gareth Southgate sought to even the odds by selecting Joe Hart in goal. Southgate made the point that this doesn’t mean Hart is guaranteed to start going forward and 3 Premier League games isn’t enough of a sample size to judge his goalkeepers form.

Within a minute Raheem Sterling got a clear sight of goal but mis-controlled. Two minutes later Harry Kane forgot it’s no longer August and hit a point blank header straight at the keeper.

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As the opening period pressed on the selection of Phil Jones & Gary Cahill at centre back whilst the more natural ball playing Stones, Keane & Maguire sat bored looked odd as did picking Jake Livermore who did ensure any hard Maltese tackling was met with greater force but whose passing has all the range of an 8 year old throwing the shot putt.

As a result the remainder of the first half was drab as England were pedestrian whilst Malta played a back 7. The delivery on the flanks and 6 first half corners was awful.

Unsurprisingly Marcus Rashford was introduced for the second half at the expense of Sterling. Within 2 minutes he’d shown more endeavour than Sterling had managed in 45, gliding past the Maltese right back with his pace.

The breakthrough finally arrived on 52 minutes with Livermore looping in a cross which Alli held and a neat reverse picked out Kane who fired home 0-1.

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It sparked Malta into sporadic attacks going close on 58 minutes.

Jamie Vardy came on after 70 minutes and within 3 minutes nipped in behind and forced a decent save from the keeper.

The pace slowed in the final 15 minutes but on 85 minutes Ryan Bertrand made sure of the win with a long range effort that bounced in front of Hogg 0-2.

Rashford continued to impress and a beautiful flick sent Walker away but he shot instead of laying on a tap in for Vardy.

The floodgates belatedly opened and a fine Kane cross was flicked home by late sub Danny Welbeck 0-3 on 90 minutes.

Rashford crossed and Kane smashed home with the final kick of the game for 0-4.

Ultimately England made heavy weather of their night in the Mediterranean sun although the result rarely looked in doubt.

Slovakia will offer a far sterner test but England should benefit from playing opponents more willing to attack rather than packing their own 18 yard line.

Rashford will surely start and I’d expect Dier to replace Livermore. But given England’s lack of creativity in central midfield I’d like to see Keane or Stones play given their ability to bring the ball out from defence.

Win on Monday and England are virtually home and that’s about all Southgate could gain from this game.

Player Ratings

Hart 6- did nothing wrong and a first clean sheet of the season!

Walker 5- Solid but poor control in key situations. It’s fortunate for him Trippier is injured.

Bertrand 6- not great crossing but got his first England goal. Danny Rose & Luke Shaw won’t be quaking in their boots

Cahill 7- showed calm authority cleaning up the odd Maltese break

Jones 6- never looked entirely comfortable but did little wrong.

Livermore 5- a steely presence in a game that was never going to need it. Created nothing and gave away a coupe of free kicks.

Henderson 7- the captain for the night started brightly but faded.

Oxlade-Chamberlain 6- direct and pacey but inconsistent in quality, in other news water’s wet.

Alli 6- still looking for that signature game for England but ticking along for now, nice assist for the opener.

Sterling 4- awful, missed a decent chance in the first minute and then made the Malta right back look like Bonucci.

Kane 8- unlucky with an early header but confidence grew after the opener. It’s now 5 goals in his last 3 internationals.

Subs

Rashford 7- excellent, showed pace and penetration, will start on Monday night.

Vardy 6- showed his usual pace and unlucky not to score

Welbeck 6- late sub showed plenty of energy and nicked a late goal.