England’s first fixture since their run to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup ended in defeat as they fell 2-1 to Spain at Wembley in the UEFA Nations League.
Starting up front alongside captain Harry Kane, Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford slid the Three Lions into an 11th-minute lead, profiting from some excellent work by the returning Luke Shaw down the left.
But Spain quickly took control, employing the slick passing game they have come to be known for. Saúl Ñíguez quickly restored parity, thumping home after a sweeping passing move, before Valencia striker Rodrigo Moreno exposed slack set-piece marking to prod Spain ahead in the first half.
Spain dominated the ball for most of the encounter, but England did muster a late rally, even seeing a stoppage-time strike from substitute Danny Welbeck controversially ruled out for a foul on goalkeeper David De Gea.
Here are the five things we learned.
Spain still tiki-taka masters
They may have fallen flat for the second World Cup in a row this summer, knocked out by hosts Russia on penalties at the last-16 stage, but Spain showed they still know how to turn on the style.
La Roja, for the first time under the tutelage of Luis Enrique, enjoyed a 60 percent share of possession at Wembley, with Sergio Busquets, Isco and Thiago Alcântara pinging pinball passing combinations, causing English heads to spin.
The visitors taught England a lesson in possession, completing 91 percent of their 629 passes, compared with the Three Lions’ 85 per cent of 516.
In a week’s time, it will be exactly three years since Shaw suffered a career-altering leg break in a Champions League game against PSV. The 23-year-old defender’s road to recovery has been long and fraught with all measure of obstacles.
But this season has seen the Manchester United man back to something approaching his pre-injury best, earning this, a first England call-up since March of 2017.
And Shaw started magnificently, providing a sumptuous assist for club colleague Rashford following a determined burst forward. Replacing another United team-mate, Ashley Young, in the line-up, Shaw showed the benefit of have a naturally left-sided player on the left side, offering genuine width.
It was heart-wrenching, then, to see Shaw stretchered from the field in the 53rd minute. A collision with Dani Carvajal appeared to see the Englishman knocked unconscious, clattering unforgivingly with the ground afterward.
Here’s hoping Shaw’s injury isn’t as serious as it appeared.
Dave saves . . . even for Spain
For the first time since his initial struggles with adjusting to life in the Premier League upon joining Manchester United in 2011, De Gea has found himself the subject of criticism.
Adored at club level, United’s Player of the Year in three of the last four seasons, the Spaniard’s performances at the World Cup fell short of his lofty standards.
But De Gea took a leap towards silencing his critics at Wembley, producing a handful of fine saves, including a magnificent reaction stop to deny Rashford’s close-range header.
The only blemish on his copybook: the winning of a dubious free-kick in stoppage time which denied Welbeck an equaliser.
England’s midfield exposed
The lack of a top-quality passer, capable of controlling the tempo of games and breaking the opposition’s lines with slick through-balls, was a common lament of England observers during the World Cup. That concern was amplified in defeat to Spain, world football’s pass masters.
Lingard and Alli, both accustomed to a more attacking remit than the ones they are asked to fulfil in England white, combined for fewer touches (94) than Isco alone (96).
And Henderson, England’s deep-lying playmaker, looked a budget, error-prone replica of his opposite number, Busquets.
The incomparable Isco
There are few players in the game and graceful, who exuding such effortless class, as Isco.
The Real Madrid man has emerged as one of Europe’s finest pure No.10s since finally cementing a starting berth at the Bernabéu in recent seasons and he is now the crown jewel of this Spain team.
Isco touched the ball 96 times, more than any England player, gliding across the Wembley turf with the balance, precision and finesse of a figure skater. He created two chances and misplaced just one of his 74 attempted passes, for a pass completion rate of 98.7 per cent.
With his control, creativity and confidence, Isco is everything the England midfield craves.