LONDON — Gareth Southgate could solely be trying to find small tweaks to show England from Euro 2020 finalists into World Cup winners, however central midfield stays the most important conundrum he has to unravel. Sunday’s end result was by no means doubtful, even when England needed to wait till the ultimate 20 minutes to translate their superiority to the scoreline with three late strikes to beat Andorra, 4-0. Consequently, Southgate had a uncommon alternative to experiment with concepts that would solidify England’s probabilities of success in Qatar subsequent 12 months.
Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice had a high quality European Championships as England’s central midfield pairing. The previous was final week named England’s Participant of the Yr by supporters for defying his inexperience to thrive in the summertime’s greatest competitors. However as time affords a extra thought-about perspective on England’s failure to finish their 55-year watch for a serious trophy, it’s England’s reluctance to press residence their early benefit in opposition to Italy, and their gradual lack of management in midfield, that lingers within the reminiscence as a lot as but extra penalty shoot-out heartache.
Southgate’s try to handle that over the following 14 months started with a formation change to 4-3-3 — a extra expansive formation many observers want he’d use on a extra common foundation — with Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold working as a No.8 alongside 18-year-old Jude Bellingham.
Andorra are at the moment ranked 156th out of 210 nations on the earth by FIFA — for context, England are fourth — and their purpose right here was palpably predictable: defend deep and preserve the rating down as little as potential. England subsequently knew they might have the vast majority of possession, ending the match with a mammoth 88%, and the problem grew to become to point out velocity of thought and creative passing to shift their opponents out of a inflexible 5-4-1 form.
Bellingham, on solely his eighth cap, outshone Alexander-Arnold in that regard, trying remarkably assured and silky on the ball, albeit in opposition to restricted opposition.
Bukayo Saka, warmly applauded earlier than kick-off as a present of help for his missed penalty in opposition to Italy, supplied the breakthrough 18 minutes in, making inroads down the left earlier than standing up a cross that Marc Vales might solely head straight to Jesse Lingard. The Manchester United winger, with simply 4 minutes of aggressive motion below his belt all season, scuffed his left-footed shot from contained in the field, but it surely nonetheless had sufficient to sneak inside Andorra goalkeeper Josep Gomes’ left-hand put up.
England managed the ball, however the Andorran defence by no means actually resembled the Alamo. Too typically England handed slowly or with out sufficient incision, and the late flurry got here as soon as the guests had drained and Southgate launched Harry Kane, Jack Grealish and Mason Mount simply after the hour mark. By that stage, Alexander-Arnold had been switched to right-back, with Reece James working as a holding midfielder to little optimistic impact. Bellingham was withdrawn in that triple change and he continues to appear to be the most probably candidate to supply England with the midfield impetus they’re trying to find, regardless of his tender years.
Kane scored his fortieth worldwide purpose — joint-fifth on England’s all-time checklist now — from the penalty spot after Christian Garcia bundled over Mount within the field. Lingard, the final to strive his hand in a No.8 place as the sport wore on, added a 3rd with a curling effort Gomes ought to have saved earlier than Saka headed residence a fourth; it was maybe cathartic that his purpose got here on his twentieth birthday, and on the similar finish he suffered that penalty heartache in opposition to Italy.
But it was removed from England’s finest. Patrick Bamford was largely starved of service on his debut — ultimately making manner for Kane — and the hosts ended the match with simply six pictures on track, maybe a modest return within the circumstances, though Lingard and Saka had been amongst these to emerge with credit score.
Southgate contests the cost that his workforce are too conservative, however there’s typically nonetheless a suspicious distance between the person expertise at his disposal and the collective attacking menace they pose.
Jesse Lingard scores twice and Harry Kane hits one other milestone in England’s 4-0 win vs. Andorra.
To underline the dramatic enhance in squad depth England now possess, their final assembly in opposition to Andorra got here in June 2009, an equally routine 6-0 World Cup qualifying win. Fabio Capello’s line-up that day included a lot of England’s heavyweights together with Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney; six of the beginning line-up would go on to play in England’s World Cup opener in opposition to the USMNT on the finals a 12 months later.
As a lot as England have at all times loved dominance over European minnows like this, they’ve normally relied on their finest gamers to maintain it that manner, however Southgate is blessed with such riches that his most celebrated stars both had transient cameos or sat this one out altogether.
The 67,171-strong crowd did not appear to thoughts, both. These in attendance had been clinging to the summer season vibe, the climate turning unseasonably heat and England’s unofficial event anthem, Neil Diamond’s “Candy Caroline,” rousing the viewers earlier than kick-off.
But Southgate has to look ahead. The massive query is whether or not he can discover a option to preserve the defensive resilience that proved the muse of their run to the Euro ultimate with extra attacking dynamism to press residence their benefit in tight video games, significantly when they’re within the ascendancy.
For all of the expertise at Southgate’s disposal, there is not an apparent reply. Bellingham might be the front-runner, however England’s midfield stays a piece in progress.