England had already secured their qualification to the World Cup in Russia next year with a 1-0 victory at home to Slovenia and repeated the same scoreline against Lithuania.
It was another game bereft of clear cut chances and tempo, however, there were certainly more bright sparks in this game, notably the impressive debut of Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Harry Winks.
The only goal of the game came late in the first half through a Harry Kane penalty after a trip on Dele Alli. Kane dispatched the spot kick with typical confidence, giving the keeper no chance as it crashed in off the post.
RealSport has picked out five things we learned from the final competitive game before the World Cup begins this summer.
In rather predictable fashion, Harry Winks was the best player on the pitch for England. Winks had a 95% pass accuracy for the Three Lions on his debut, whilst he also made two key passes, two dribbles and two shots on goal.
Winks plays the same no matter what game it is, and was never likely to let the occasion get to him. He is what England have been missing in the middle of the park, someone who’s first thought is to see if he can play a creative and positive pass through the lines.
Winks is constantly receiving the ball on the half turn and is becoming an expert at knowing when to pass, dribble, quicken the play or slow it down and could be a regular in Southgate’s starting XI.
England don’t have an ideology. There is a distinct lack of style and set system whenever England play, which is in stark contract to the likes of Spain and Germany. What England must do therefore is find an identity and that should be to prioritise a more direct, counter attacking style of play.
England do not have enough creative players or technicians to ‘out play’ and dominate the other top nations in world football, and so should take advantage of the strengths they have. England have some of the most feared, rapid, quick and skilful forwards in world football in Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and wing backs such as Kyle Walker and Danny Rose who are also explosive.
England have players who can pass the ball into space in Harry Winks and Jonjo Shelvey and should utilise their suitability to a direct style of play.
Against sides such as Lithuania, England will naturally have more of the ball. However, on far too many occasions, England were slow to release the ball when there was space to exploit after the Lithuanians had pushed men up the field.
Trying to dominate the ball against sides such as Spain, Germany, France and Brazil simply won’t work. Southgate should prepare his side to play a more direct, counter attacking style if they want to have any chance against the best nations in the world.
Alli doesn’t work in this setup
Dele Alli has built his reputation on providing moments of magic, a goalscoring touch, and exceptional movement. However, despite Alli’s constant off-the-ball movement, England rarely found the number ten in areas where he can affect the game, instead choosing to go sideways and backwards.
It raises the issue of either playing to the Spurs star’s strengths, or dropping him altogether. It is now eight internationals since Alli last scored a goal for England, and whilst he is being used in this system, those average displays are only likely to continue.
Alli has the talent and ability to win any game of football, so England should find better avenues to progress the ball to him when he arrives in dangerous positions.
We need explosive wing backs
The three at the back set up is a system which can certainly work well for England. However, for the Three Lions to reap the full benefits of the now popular set up, they need explosive wing backs.
Aaron Cresswell and Kieran Trippier are good players. Trippier himself has set up eight Premier League goals since the start of last season. However, the wing backs in a three at the back system must be aggressive and able to carry the ball up the field, looking to stretch teams and make runs in behind. Neither Cresswell nor Trippier particularly specialise in this area.
There is little doubt that Kyle Walker, and Danny Rose when fit should be the starting wing backs or full backs for England at the World Cup with their explosive playing style, ball-carrying ability, as well as their end product and defensive work.
Get fit Lallana
Along with star striker Harry Kane, it is becoming more and more obvious that Adam Lallana is England’s most important player, and he hasn’t even featured in the last two international breaks.
Marcus Rashford was handed his role in the side, however doesn’t have the creative passing to fulfil it. England may have progressed the ball better from deep with Winks in the side, however they still sorely lacked someone in the final third who could play that last pace and provide the creativity from further up the pitch.
Adam Lallana is as silky as they come and can certainly play that final pass. The likes of Dele Alli were crying out for someone of Lallana’s speed of thought and vision to play the ball into the spaces he ran into.
If England wish to get the best out of their other attacking stars, Lallana needs to get fit and back in the side.
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