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England 2-1 Nigeria: 5 things we learned

 • by Tom Bodell
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England got their World Cup preparations off to the ideal start with a 2-1 win over Nigeria at Wembley but, in time-honoured fashion, left room for improvement with a second-rate display after the break.

Goals from Gary Cahill and Harry Kane gave Gareth Southgate’s side a half-time lead they richly deserved in what was one of the more enjoyable England friendlies in recent memory.

But the Super Eagles switched to a back three at the break to mirror the Three Lions’ shape and pulled one back almost immediately when Arsenal forward Alex Iwobi lashed home.

The African side, who are also preparing for the World Cup, were much improved from there on but could not force an equaliser at a sweltering Wembley Stadium.

But what did we learn from this warm-up fixture?

Walker aids Trippier progress

For 18 months it looked as though Kieran Trippier‘s progress would be halted by his then Tottenham Hotspur team-mate Kyle Walker. Unable to get into Mauricio Pochettino’s side ahead of the Sheffield native, his talent was clearly being wasted.

However, Walker’s fall from grace at White Hart Lane in 2017 opened the door for Trippier and the former Manchester City prospect took his chance with both hands. So much so that Pochettino had no qualms about selling Walker to City for £50million last summer.

And that move has had positive ramifications for both players and, most importantly, England.

Walker has benefited enormously from training and playing under Pep Guardiola for a season to become the best right-back in the Premier League. Yet for England he has been moulded into a right-sided centre-half and looks every bit as comfortable tucked inside as he does hugging the touchline.

Trippier, meanwhile, has thrived at Spurs to see off the challenge of £24million summer signing Serge Aurier. On the international scene, the former Burnley man has made the right wing-back spot his own too.

His assist for Cahill’s opener was his ninth of a prolific season. The only player in the England squad to supply more this term is Tottenham team-mate Dele Alli.

Too often England managers have failed to find a way to fit all their best players into a cohesive system which fits the entire XI. Southgate has done just that.

England forward Harry Kane in action against Nigeria

Armband fits Kane perfectly

There was some degree of surprise when Tottenham goal machine Kane was named as captain for the World Cup. Southgate, to his eternal credit, has refused to be drawn into the media hullabaloo about who gets to lead the team out and exchange pennants with the opposing side.

However, having rotated the armband around a number of players Southgate has settled on Kane as his man to lead the Three Lions in Russia and it’s not hard to see why.

Kane is a level-headed, hard working, model professional, who has always conducted himself in exemplary fashion. But, above all, he is England’s best and most important player and he is used to carrying the burden of expectation with Spurs.

And the proof is in the pudding. In five outings as England’s fearless leader Kane now has six goals. Captaincy can be a burden to some, but Kane is thriving on the responsibility.

England wing-back Kieran Trippier challenges Chelsea's Victor Moses of Nigeria

Wing-backs give England options

All too often England friendlies are a chore. Not quite in the category of mowing the lawn or doing the laundry, but only a couple of rungs below. Friendlies in particular can be onerous.

However, Southgate’s side are changing that – albeit gradually. No-one could accuse the Three Lions coach of throwing caution to the wind and sending his side out with reckless abandon. But the handbrake has at least been released under the former England Under-21 coach.

In the first half the hosts were a joy to behold at times. The moved the ball quickly and with positive intent and much of that was down to the work of wing-backs Trippier and Ashley Young. They got high and wide, stretching the play and offering an outlet on either side.

The touch map below, courtesy of WhoScored.com, shows how involved the duo were, most notably going forward.

England wing-backs Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young were dangerous and got forward well vs. Nigeria

On this evidence Young has edged in front of Tottenham outcast Danny Rose in the race to be England’s No.3 this summer. The only thing which might count against the Manchester United man is his right-footedness.

In an ideal world Southgate would surely prefer the 32-year-old to be able to go to the touchline and sling a cross in, rather than checking back onto his preferred foot.

But if Southgate sticks to his policy of selecting players who featured regularly for their clubs then Young will surely get the nod over Rose who managed just nine top-flight starts last season.

Delph set for midfield role?

One of the success stories of the season has been Fabian Delph‘s transition from central midfield to left wing-back. But Southgate does not appear to see it that way on this evidence.

The Manchester City utility man replaced Alli in the final ten minutes to win his first cap under Southgate’s charge and went straight into a midfield role.

Perhaps, though, it shouldn’t be such a surprise. The 28-year-old is mobile, hard-working, defensively and tactically sound and quick across the ground. All desirable traits for a midfielder in Southgate’s side.

The likelihood of Delph – who won his last cap in 2015 while Roy Hodgson was still in charge – starting any games in Russia is slim. But he gives Southgate something different in midfield and is the perfect player to help close a game out or inject extra energy into the side.

One spot available for opener?

The big question for Southgate going into these two friendlies was whether he’d come out the other side knowing his strongest XI. In truth the team that will face Tunisia on June 18 in England’s first group game has not had many openings in it for some time.

One, though, is at centre-back where Walker and John Stones are nailed-on. The identity of the left-sided centre-half, however, is unclear. Leicester City‘s Harry Maguire has looked the most likely to get the nod but missed the win over Nigeria with a niggle.

England rivals Gary Cahill and Harry Maguire compared

The expectation is he will be fit to feature against Tunisia in Volgograd. But Cahill is not down and out yet. The Chelsea captain is not the player he once was – not least when stationed alongside John Terry at Stamford Bridge – but with 59 caps he is the most senior member of the travelling party.

He ended the season at Chelsea with a flourish and is the best fit on the left-side of a back three given it’s where he’s spent most the season with the Blues. It’s the one position not yet locked down.

Contrasted to recent England World Cup campaigns, though, that’s not bad going at all.

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