For the second time in qualification Kosovo showed that no team should really be afraid of England as more goals papered over more cracks.
This may have been Kosovo’s first home defeat in a meaningful match but they are not that good, yet they still caused England trouble in both matches in their Euro qualifying group. They made England sweat in the first game and with a bit more quality up front they could have done the same in the final game of the group.
Three passes. That’s all it took to cut through England. If better teams haven’t seen this and figured yup, it’s just like last time round. England are there for the taking, if you’ve got a goal scorer. Defender passes out from his own box, midfielder passes it back and then he cuts it straight through the heart of England’s midfield and defence with one cross-field pass and Hadergjonaj was through on goal, he just didn’t have the ability to finish it off.
Four nil flattered England as they struggled against a team that was playing in a flat back 10 formation but were again happy to attack and with some quality in the final third it could have been a more even scoreline. They had chances but no finisher. They had a big lumper up front and six corners with which they failed to get the ball on his head. Their corners were even worse than England’s set-pieces. England are bad at defending corners… well they’re bad at defending… and only really once did the corner taker put it on one of his players head and then the header was heading for a throw. From another if their player had got a little more on the shot from outside the box it could have been the opener.
When Kosovo attacked they piled players forward, they were there for the taking on the counter but Southgate had brought Sterling straight back in after he missed the last game. And on nearly every chance of a quick counter the ball ended up at the feet of Sterling who ended up stood still. For nearly 80 minutes I don’t think I’ve seen anyone so reluctant to actually use their pace on a football pitch.
Where England were a team against Montenegro. No one had to be the centre of attention. No one got in the way. No one slowed it all up. No one stopped the striker being on the end of decent delivery in the box. Here they weren’t.
Sterling on the right meant Hudson-Odoi was on the left, he kept cutting inside and it kept not working. Rashford cuts in but normally when he’s into the box and there’s an end product to it. Now put H-O on the other side and get him delivery crosses… but no.
With Sterling not staying wide either it meant the fullbacks had to provide the width. They didn’t. Alexander-Arnold was shocking. His set-pieces were about as bad as his open play crosses. Chilwell, just didn’t really show.
It took England longer to get on the score-sheet than it has for a while. Over half an hour before Winks opened his and their account. Oh god the “he’s one of our own” will have creamed themselves. Playing further forward, and 8 rather than a number 4 “pivot”. That role was given to Rice, who eventually turned up when he passed the ball through to Kane, who’d come deeper, he played it off to Oxlade-Chamberlain, Kane’s dropping deep opened a hole that Winks ran into, O-C’s pass found him in acres of space. His first touch wasn’t as good as they’re making it out to be but he got lucky and was one on one with the keeper. He did take the finish well. For someone who doesn’t score. The rest of the game was his usual stuff. Stat padding sideways passing, giving the ball away when passing forward and getting away with a number of tackles that should have seen a card, if not two.
Again after the break England came out looking like they wanted Iain Duncan Smith but had got Gareth Southgate again. Again Kosovo had chances. Things didn’t change until England made a change and Rashford came on for H-O just on the hour. Rashford’s pace and willingness to actually go forward with pace livened things up a bit. Harry hit the post, again this miss could be down to shock at getting a pass from Sterling in the box.
Then nearly 80 minutes in Sterling actually tried to run past a defender, towards the byline. Instead of running into the defender, he actually tried to avoid him. I know. Shocked and stunned. His cross was inept, going towards no one a Kosovo defender sliced it up in the air and it fell nicely for Harry at the back post to side foot it home. As said in the last post if he scores one a game he’ll keep up with Jimmy Greaves goal scoring, it also meant that he’d scored in every game in this qualifying group.
More amazingly Sterling then ran away from Kosovo players and towards their box with pace before shockingly finding Rashford with a pass. The United striker didn’t have to break stride to guide the ball in the far post. To finish it off – great lads, no thought for those who had 3-0 – Harry harried the Kosovo defender who fell over, Kane squared it to the substitute Mount for him to get his first England goal.
Another reasonable amount of goals that have masked the fact with Sterling playing it’s him and a bunch of others and not a team performance. To go along with another centre-back pairing that can be cut open with ease. Southgate says England are further ahead than they were after qualifying for the last World Cup. They may have found a way of scoring against lesser teams but they’re no further forward really when it comes to facing a quality side…