Tuesday night was for the most part another success for Gareth Southgate’s side, as England showed their team characteristics while also offering up some impressive glimpses of their individual talent during the 1-1 draw with Italy.
England got off to a shaky start at Wembley as some dodgy defending almost handed Italy the lead but Jamie Vardy‘s emphatic finish on 26 minutes, following Jesse Lingard‘s quickly taken free-kick, meant England entered the final five minutes with a deserved advantage.
But when debutant James Tarkowski accidentally stood on Federico Chiesa‘s foot while running into the box – and the Fiorentina starlet remained on the floor – referee Deniz Aytekin consulted the video assistant referee and awarded Luigi Di Biagio’s men a spot kick, which was confidently converted by Lorenzo Insigne in the 87th minute.
It was a night with plenty of positives for Southgate though and here are five key talking points to come out of the performance.
Vardy’s incredible record against top sides continues
You’ve got to admire Vardy. He was laughed at in some quarters following his inability to get a single touch of the ball against the Netherlands last week, but he bounced back in emphatic style at Wembley.
In the opening 60 seconds on Tuesday, he’d already had more touches than in the Three Lions’ previous encounter. And then he went on to open the scoring in brilliant fashion with a scintillating finish after he found space to unleash a venomous shot after Lingard took a free-kick quickly.
He caused trouble all night with his mobility in attack, and it’s obvious he can be a real asset in Russia.
While Harry Kane will get the nod if fully fit, there is no doubt that if Vardy gets the service and support then he can be a threat in front of goal this summer with his speed and ability to evade defences.
The Leicester City striker has also again proven he can score against the better teams’ defences, with goals against Italy, Germany, Netherlands and Spain already on his résumé at international level and ten goals against the Premier League’s traditional top six this season.
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) March 27, 2018
Sterling’s club form is transferring to the international stage
One major issue of English football over the years has been an inability to carry impressive club form into the white of England. Signs are, however, that the improvements which have been made to Raheem Sterling’s game under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola could bear great reward for England.
Sterling played with swagger and purpose on Tuesday, always looking to get his head up and drive at opponents while also showing the awareness to pick out a team-mate. Without doubt, he was England’s finest attacking player on the night and showcased all that he has learned under Guardiola at City.
He produced five successful dribbles, as well as making three key passes. This showed again that Sterling is finally finding end product in his game and could be set for a starring role this summer.
Growing in confidence at the right time
With draws against Italy, Brazil and Germany, as well as a win over Netherlands, in their last four games, England are showing they are making all the right moves in terms of build-up to the World Cup. While on the face of it these results are unspectacular, they do show a maturity and ability to do what is needed to get a result.
Southgate may not be the loudest presence on the bench but his calm personality is influencing England in the right manner. Against Italy they showed a confidence and willingness to control the game, while also take it to the visitors at other times. It has been a while since England played with such authority, and after a scary opening 20 minutes they rode out the storm and it was their game from then on in – until the dramatic conclusion of course.
GOAL! Italy equalise with a very well struck penalty from Insigne: pic.twitter.com/GSCOgPVPuY
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) March 27, 2018
We’ve got Alli, Dele Alli…but he’s just not playing and we don’t understand
Questions marks do remain over Dele Alli however, with two games and no starts during this international window.
It seems a bit strange for Alli not to feature at all and while his place on the plane to Russia is surely not in doubt, it is a concern that a talent heralded as one of Europe’s brightest can’t get into the current England set-up. His form needs to be recovered at Spurs with a strong end to the season, and of course, he might have to hope Kane makes a sharp return if England are to see the best of him.
Lingard the joker in the pack
Love him, hate him. Either way, Lingard’s incredible season simply can’t be denied. He added to it with another strong display at Wembley and along with Sterling provided plenty of zest and zip in the final third. The Manchester United midfielder plays without fear and he showcases that every time he plays, allowing him to maybe take risks and do things most other players wouldn’t. Southgate forgives him for it given what he brings to the team and Italy had a first hand viewing of that.
Lingard’s movement was sharp and incisive, while he held up the ball and brought others into play impressively. The way he breaks on the counter is also an asset and with Sterling and Vardy there is genuine, raw pace there that can strike fear into the very best teams.