Gareth Southgate’s England reign began with a 1-0 defeat to Germany on Wednesday evening as Lukas Podolski ended a glittering international career with a stunning second-half winner.
In losing to Joachim Löw’s side, Southgate becomes the first Three Lions boss since Bobby Robson to be denied a win his maiden match in charge of his country.
But what did we learn from defeat in Dortmund?
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1. England would kill for Lukas Podolski
The former Arsenal forward has always been labelled as a player who performs better for his country than his club – something England bosses past and present would love.
Podolski, winning his 130th cap for Die Mannschaft, scored his 49th goal with a trademark sledgehammer effort from 25 yards. Up to that point England had probably been the better side. But the Galatasaray forward, who has already agree a move to Japan at the end of the season, settled the game in stunning fashion.
The 31-year-old brings the curtain down on his international career as Germany’s third-most capped player and third-highest scorer with only Miroslav Klose (71) and Gerd Muller (68) having scored more.
England players have long been accused of failing to replicate their club form when they pull on an England shirt. On this evidence, perhaps we could do with a few more Podolskis?
2. Michael Keane is ready for England duty
The Burnley centre-back was handed his England debut as part of an unfamiliar back three but showed no signs of nerves as he completed 90 minutes to mark an impressive display.
Keane made three blocks and seven clearances, as well as completing 89 per cent of his passes, to finish as the pick of England’s defensive trio.
Southgate’s options at centre-half are somewhat limited. Skipper for the night Gary Cahill is the only one guaranteed a start but, at 31, does not have time on his side. Phil Jagielka (34) has struggled to get a game for Everton this season while Manchester United’s Chris Smalling blow hot and cold.
John Stones is unquestionably as player who should win 100 caps for England at centre-back but after those four the options run dry. Burnley fans have called for Keane’s inclusion for some time. On this evidence they won’t be the only ones in future.
3. 3-4-2-1 is an option
Unlike those who have gone before in recent times, Southgate showed some degree of invention and flexibility by setting England up with three centre-halves and wing-backs.
The change of system did not yield the win he would have wanted to start his regime – and against the nation he missed a crucial penalty at Euro 1996 – but he will have taken some solace in what he saw.
In starting with what were effectively two numbers tens in Dele Alli and Adam Lallana, Southgate tried to get the best out of England’s two form players this season. Both men have thrived for their clubs this season with Alli scoring 14 and setting up three more; Lallana bagging seven and laying on the same number.
Putting the duo in support of Jamie Vardy was a shrewd move and they were involved in almost everything good from a Three Lions point of view. The real test is whether Southgate uses the back three against Lithuania in Sunday’s World Cup qualifier at Wembley.
4. Jermain Defoe is/isn’t up to it
Surely the point of calling up England’s most in-form striker is to give him a run-out in the meaningless friendly?
Presumably Sunderland hitman Defoe will see action against Lithuania this weekend. That is hardly a test of the 34-year-old’s credentials on the international scene, however. If Southgate was really going to get the measure of the Black Cats poacher then a far more accurate gauge would have been against world champions Germany.
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5. New era, same problems
For 69 minutes England did pretty well. They had more of the ball, showed menace with Alli and Lallana in support of Vardy and might have been 2-0 ahead by half time.
Then Podolski was given the freedom of Dortmund to crack home a thunderous effort on his favoured left foot and England – if not sunk – were shellshocked. In the remaining 21 minutes the visitors had a solitary shot.
This isn’t new and arguably we’ve learnt little in that sense. As soon as it goes wrong England’s players freeze and run out of ideas and invention. If Southgate fixes nothing else during his time in the hotseat – and his To Do list isn’t lacking for length – then finding a way to stop his side shrinking after a setback would be a good place to start.