National Football

5 things we learned: Spain 2-3 England

 • by Adam Newson
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For 45 minutes in Seville England reached a level they haven’t hit for well over a decade. And Spain didn’t know how to handle it.

The Three Lions were explosive and ruthless, carving open the home side time and time again. They were rewarded, too, with three goals of such quality even the La Roja fans would’ve begrudgingly admired them.

The first was scored by Raheem Sterling; a thunderous finish after a 17-pass move. Marcus Rashford then netted the second after superb hold up play from Harry Kane. Sterling would add a third before the break to put England in unexpected control.

The second half wasn’t as exhilarating for those of an England persuasion. Spain regrouped and started to work their way back into the contest.

Paco Alcácer, the Borussia Dortmund striker, did what he has done all season; score after coming off the substitutes’ bench. And then Spain bombarded the England goal.

There were fortunate moments – the hosts should’ve had a penalty when Jordan Pickford lost possession and then fouled Rodrigo in his desperation to rectify the situation – but England did enough.

Sergio Ramos‘ header in the dying seconds gave the scoreline a fairer reflection but this was the Three Lions’ night and here are the five things we learned from Gareth Southgate’s side’s win in Seville.

Gomez cements his spot

In recent years England have failed to develop an elite-level centre-back, but in Joe Gomez they may just have one.

The 21-year-old has started this season in excellent form for Liverpool. Playing alongside Virgil van Dijk in the centre of the Reds defence, his confidence has grown and he has become more authoritative with each passing game.

But how would he cope without being partnered by the world’s most expensive defender? Gomez gave an emphatic answer in Seville.

He was almost flawless. In the first half his distribution allowed England to develop attacks, while in the second he defended resolutely and still used the ball calmly when others were panicking to clear.

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Perhaps most impressively though was his leadership. Gomez was often the defender marshalling the defence, pushing the backline forward when they were coming under late pressure.

His passing accuracy of 87.5 per cent was the highest of any England defender who started the contest. He also made one interception, five tackles and two blocks, one of which in the second period was vital.

Gomez may only have five caps to his name but he has done enough on those appearances to cement his place in the starting XI. If fit he starts, no question.

Barkley and Winks take their chance

For differing reasons Ross Barkley and Harry Winks were not with England at the World Cup. The former was left out the squad having barely played last season at firstly Everton and then Chelsea, while the latter missed out due to injury.

Yet fast forward four months and both players –particularly Barkley – find themselves in very different situations.

Winks has recently returned from injury and is beginning to again establish himself in the Tottenham Hotspur side. While Barkley has gone from forgotten man at Stamford Bridge to first-team regular.

Their respective comebacks were rewarded by starts in Spain and they certainly didn’t disappoint.

The duo are very different players and were given roles that suited. Winks is an intelligent user of the ball and knitted together passages of England possession in his own understated style.

Barkley, meanwhile, is more explosive and dynamic. As such he was given the licence to break forward from the three-man midfield and push into the Spain penalty area.

In the first half the 24-year-old was hugely effective and it was his clever lofted pass to Kane that allowed the England skipper to tee up Sterling for England’s third of the night.

Winks, too, made his mark. He was substituted in the 90th minute but only after attempting the equal most passes of an England player (35). His completion rate of 85.7 per cent was also the third highest of any visiting player to start the game.

Sterling silences his doubters

“I haven’t scored for a while but you have to keep your positivity, keep getting into the box,” Sterling said prior to the clash against Spain. How prophetic those words now appear.

The Manchester City winger has faced plenty of criticism for his lack of goals for the Three Lions over the last three years. Some of it fair, a lot of it unfair. But he proved in Seville that in the right system he can be devastating.

Sterling was deployed wide on the right of an attacking three; a position he plays for Manchester City on a weekly basis. Perhaps that familiarity made the difference.

He was allowed to roam inside the opposing full-back when the opportunity presented itself, as he often does for Pep Guardiola’s men. And it’s what led to England’s first goal.

When Kane collected Pickford’s pass, Sterling darted beyond Marcos Alonso and into space. All that was required was the right pass from Rashford and the Manchester United star obliged.

The 23-year-old took one touch and rifled his shot past De Gea. It was certainly not the finish of a man lacking confidence in front of goal.

And his second of the night was a carbon-copy of many a goal he has struck for City over the past 18 months, finishing a cut-back inside six-yard box after making a late supporting run beyond the defence.

The Rashford conundrum

A lot has been made of how José Mourinho has handled Rashford’s development at Manchester United.

The Portuguese would argue no player has featured in more games under his management at Old Trafford than the 20-year-old. Yet many of those appearances have been as a substitute and short cameos won’t have hugely benefitted the forward.

This season, for example, Rashford has featured in seven of United’s eleven games. Three he missed due to suspension and the other was against Tottenham Hotspur when he was an unused substitute. Yet his total minutes amounts to 380, the equivalent of just over four full matches.

Perhaps this lack of consistency is behind his indifferent form for United. He only has one goal to his name for the Red Devils this term and just the four scoring attempts in total in the Premier League.

However, in an England shirt Rashford appears far more comfortable. Against Croatia on Friday he had two good opportunities but failed to find the net. In Seville he was more clinical.

He teed up Sterling’s opener with a brilliant through pass and then got on the scoresheet after breaking behind the hosts’ defence, collecting Kane’s pass and slotting past club-mate de Gea.

That is the sort of run Rashford isn’t making for United at the minute. A lack of confidence when wearing red? Perhaps. But it’s a problem Mourinho must solve if he’s to get the best out of his young attacker.

No goals but Kane decisive

Sterling wasn’t the only England player defending his lack of goals before the clash in Spain. Kane, top scorer at the World Cup let’s not forgot, was having to do the same.

“When you set the standards that I’ve set over the last few years and you fall a little bit below them, people are going to talk,” he said.

“That’s just the game we are in. I’m experienced enough now to know that and not to get too high or too low. I just stay focused on my job and what I need to do.”

Kane didn’t end his drought against Spain but his impact on the game was decisive; he was involved in all three England goals.

For the first, it was his incisive pass to Rashford that allowed the Manchester United forward to slip in Sterling. For the second the Tottenham Hotspur man brilliantly held up a long clearance from Jordan Pickford before sliding in Rashford. And for the third Kane knocked down Barkley’s pass to Sterling who was left with an easy finish.

Given the world class striker he is, the Spurs star will have been disappointed not to get on the scoresheet. However, his game is more than just goals and Kane once again proved that in Seville.

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