England played their first competitive match since the World Cup in front of 81,000 fans on Saturday night. The familiar chants from the summer could be heard throughout the game as the Three Lions supporters let manager Gareth Southgate know ‘he’s the one’ and that ‘football is coming home again’.
On this occasion at Wembley it wasn’t to be however, as Saul and Rodrigo cancelled out Marcus Rashford’s impressive early opening goal to win the opening match of their Nations League Group A clash for Spain.
Sergio Ramos was met with boos while Luke Shaw was stretchered off with a serious-looking head injury in the second half, although the latest reports suggest that the Manchester United defender is awake and communication in the dressing room.
It was a packed 90 minutes for England’s opening Nations League match, with games against Spain and Croatia – both home and away – yet to come. From a tactical viewpoint it’s evident that England suffer against the big sides when they play Jordan Henderson as a sole defensive midfielder. The Liverpool midfielder was left exposed in the middle of the park against a technically astute Spain midfield who completely overran him.
Former England assistant coach Gary Neville recently suggested that Southgate should alter the formation and play a 3-4-3 in games against the top sides.
That extra man playing in a central/defensive midfield role with inside forwards supporting Harry Kane upfront provides a better balance than the current formation – and with one clean sheet in seven games, a change of system is something that has been much needed for a long time.
With Jose Mourinho watching on in the stands, the likes of Rashford and Shaw showed their potential by linking up for the first goal.
The seven-minute delay due to treatment of Shaw’s injury counted for nine minutes stoppage time and England will certainly feel robbed by the decision to disallow Danny Welbeck’s late goal after he was deemed to have fouled his former United team-mate David De Gea as he challenged for the ball.
Replays showed that Welbeck won the ball fairly and Southgate on the sidelines was rightly fuming with the decision.
Despite the disallowed goal, England will need to improve going into next month’s match against World Cup finalists Croatia – a team whose technical and tactical nous is able to compete against any side in the world.