on the football team.
Spain thought they’d hit rock bottom during the World Cup, when they insipidly passed their way out of the tournament, little did they know just a few months later they’d find out what real humiliation is, in losing at home to England.
England hadn’t won a competitive match since the World Cup quarter final, over Sweden. Despite their limp World Cup exit, Spain hadn’t lost a competitive match for years. And though overall England have a winning head to head record with Spain – now stands at won 13, drawn 4, lost 10 – they hadn’t won on Spanish soil in over 30 years, with Spain not having lost a competitive match on home soil since in 15 years.
Is the Nations League a competitive match or just a glorified friendly? Either way, England don’t beat decent teams that often, especially not away from home. Though in true Southgate manner they contrived to to try and lose this one, from being 3-0 up.
All hail the hero. Raheem Sterling actually scored for England, not just one but two. Wow.
All the talk before hand of his lack of goals, two in his previous 45 games, but it wasn’t just that that was the problem. He’s a hindrance to the team in attack. It’s not like he makes of for the lack of goals with assists, or great link up play. Oh but he puts himself about, works for the team. Claptrap. What you saw against Spain was someone who works for himself because all of a sudden there’s a clamour for someone else to get his spot.
In the first of England’s Nations League double header, the insipid draw away to Croatia, that at least halted the run of competitive losses for Southgate’s team, though saw he England goalkeeper having to make a number of saves while the Croatian was somewhat underemployed – and yet Southgate blathered on about deserving to win – Sterling was his usual run around, do nothing self, with the team uplifted by his withdrawal and the introduction of Jadon Sancho. Sancho, who has the most assists in the top five leagues of Europe, buzzed about and put in some decent balls, that the rest just didn’t react to because they’re used to Sterling playing and not getting a decent delivery.
This game summed up everything that is wrong with Southgate as England manager and highlighted how someone half decent would have a pretty good chance of succeeding with the players available. They got to the World Cup semi-final despite Southgate not due to him.
The goals came from fast play. Quick balls out of their own half, quick one touch passing and quick movement. And yet here we have Southgate wanting them to fanny about at the back, where they are least comfortable on the ball and just gift the opposition chances.
That’s how they started against Spain. Trying their best to keep losing. England need the ball away from their own goal, away as quickly as possible. Now that doesn’t mean you have to resort to Allardyce football but sometimes the long punt from the keeper works, especially with a high, slow defence in front of you.
The opener did start with a bit of back-passing fannying about, but Pickford got the ball up the park to Kane, nice touch and layoff to Rashford and his right foot pass was pinpoint perfect for Sterling. Those creaming themselves over the wasy he scored might have overlooked it wasn’t far from being ballooned over the bar, leaning back just a bit more in that stupid manner of his.
Anyway in between, it was more quick play from a Spanish shot on target, Pickford launched a long one to Harry deep in the Spanish half. Great hold up play by Kane saw Rashford charging up the pitch, to be found by a glorious pass, which the Man United man finished off in the way he knows he should have done against Croatia previously.
Spain were shell-shocked. The third, Sterling’s second, came from nice build up play in Spain’s half. Most of it one or two touch stuff, most of it going forward, no back-passes back into the England half. Barkley put a lovely lofted pass into the box for a great Kane run, he’s cushioned cross put it on a plate for Sterling, three yards out could he miss, well he has before, but not this time. Without that first he probably would have butchered this trying to work out which foot to kick it with.
Barkley did more with that ball than he’s done in most of his previous 23 caps. Against Croatia he was doing his Jack Wilshere impersonation of running into defenders, losing the ball and falling over.
The whole midfield looked better without the running into people bit. Dier had his best game for England in a while, most people’s stand out moment of the game being his challenge on Ramos early on. It can be no coincidence that Dier looked better without Henderson there but you know Southgate won’t figure this out. Winks seemed to pass forward more than he has been doing of late, it might give him the confidence to do it more for his club if he can against Spain.
The defence is still shaky – that’s why the ball needs to be as far away from them as possible and as soon as possible – and the second half was a back to the walls job, where the whole team just fell deeper and deeper, with Southgate exacerbating this by bringing on another defender in Walker.
Pickford was lucky to get away with a moment just after the hour. He gets a bit too cocky at times, there’s a look of Joe Hart at times. He also has to do something about his saves and punches, too many times the ball goes back into the middle of the box. You can’t rely on the opposition being as profligate as Spain were.
England again resembled Spurs as they couldn’t defend set pieces as Spain got one back just before the hour from a corner. Luckily for Southgate when Ramos got their second, just before the seven minutes of added time were up, it was the last kick of the game and they got away with what some are claiming is a famous win.
No, it’s not up there with the other lot. This was no 1-5 in Munich nor the 4-1 against Holland in ’96. In those games they dominated, in this they got lucky and were hanging on. Not even 30% of the ball, just the three shots on target, while Spain had five times as many total attempts. And this was a glorified friendly, not a World Cup qualifier or Euro finals match.