Three months after their celebrated run to the World Cup semi-finals, England received a harsh reality check from a dominant Spanish side on Saturday night at Wembley. Luis Enrique’s first competitive game as Spain head-coach saw his team show fantastic character to come from behind to beat the Three Lions 2-1.
In truth, England showed grit, guts and no shortage of industry, but they were outplayed for most of the match by a superior technical side. On Saturday night’s performance alone, England’s quest to be regularly competing for international trophies still lacks some crucial components.
England began the game on a bright note and took the lead in the 11th minute when Marcus Rashford finished neatly past his Manchester United clubmate David De Gea. Harry Kane received the ball in the centre circle, turned his marker and hit a left-footed pass to the recalled Luke Shaw who produced a pinpoint cross for Rashford to score. The jubilant celebrations of the home crowd did not last long as Spain equalised only ninety seconds later. Atletico Madrid’s attacking midfielder expertly alluded his marker Jesse Lingarrd to finish Rodrigo’s low cross past the helpless Jordan Pickford.
The Spanish midfield quickly began to assert their passing dominance with Thiago Alcantara and Isco coming to the fore. Gareth Southgate’s plan to put Dele Ali and Lingarrd in central midfield with Jordan Henderson quickly backfired as Spain took control of the match. England so sorely lacks a quality passing central midfielder who can control the tempo of the game. The English midfield trio were no match for the high pressing and quick passing which was so assuredly portrayed by their Spanish counterparts. A needless free-kick conceded by Kieran Trippier for a foul on Marcos Alonso in the 32nd minute resulted in Rodrigo’s winning goal. The England players will not be happy when they view the video analysis of their marking for the goal. Harry Kane and Joe Gomez did not stay with their assigned men and the Valencia centre-forward Rodrigo coolly despatched the ball into the net.
The first thirty minutes of the second half saw the Spanish players absolutely overpower their hosts. The English players simply could not get out of their half, and Harry Kane was unable to hold the ball up. The Spurs and England captain produced an abject display when compared with his usual high-performance standards. Kane looks to be struggling with an injury, and it may be prudent for Spurs manager Mauricio Pochetino to give Kane some time off to help him recover his match sharpness. Under pressure, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho will have been pleased by the displays from Luke Shaw and Marcus Rashford. A clash of heads with Dani Carvajal cruelly ended the game for Shaw, who had to receive an extended period of medical treatment on the pitch following the collision. Rashford was at the forefront of all of England’s good attacking play. His first half header produced a world-class save from De Gea, and he missed a great chance with ten minutes remaining when he hit a strike straight at the Spanish number one.
The recent retirements of David Silva, Gerard Pique and Andres Iniesta must have worried Luis Enrique ahead of the match. The England fans subjected Spanish captain Sergio Ramos to a constant barrage of booing throughout the game from the following his clash with Mo Salah in the Champions League Final. The Real Madrid defender produced an accomplished display encompassing the necessary quality and leadership which should inspire the future stars of Spain and provide solace to the management, who will be reassured that the retired trio will not leave a huge hole to fill.
The fourth official signalled nine minutes of injury time due to the Luke Shaw injury. Danny Welbeck’s late disallowed goal caused some post-match controversy with Harry Kane stating that the referee “bottled it” when he awarded a free kick for a foul on David De Gea with only 3 minutes remaining. The midfield creativity problems facing Gareth Southgate will be of significant concern heading into the two away group games next month. Lewis Cook, Ross Barclay and Phil Foden are three players who could add some creative spark to the English midfield. It is no going to be a crucial trip to play against the losing World Cup Finalists Croatia next month. The England management team must find some solutions to their midfield problems if they are to avoid a second-high profile loss to the Croatians in the last four months.