There may have been no Premier League action this weekend, but that doesn’t mean things were dull.
Far from it, in fact. We enjoyed the first round of UEFA Nations League games, with England facing Spain in their first game since the World Cup.
Spain show England the way
In the wake of their best World Cup result in 28 years, a packed Wembley crowed was bouncing on Saturday night, as Gareth Southgate’s men hosted the 2010 world champions.
And much like against Croatia, the Three Lions started well and took an early lead with Marcus Rashford finishing off an excellent flowing move.
But again like Croatia, that was as good as it got, as Spain took control of the game and England looked devoid of creativity.
Rashford spurned two chances in the second half, and Danny Welbeck was unfairly judged to have fouled David de Gea in stoppage time, but for large periods England couldn’t break Spain down.
Despite entering a new era under Luis Enrique, the Spaniards showed no rustiness. They responded quickly, took the lead, dictated play and made England toil.
The same questions remain
England’s loss reared the old issue of midfield quality. They haven’t enjoyed a classy, ball-playing midfielder of the highest calibre for years, and Southgate himself has said he hasn’t seen one play for England since Paul Gascoigne.
The Three Lions boss was smart in utilising alternative tactics to great effect in the World Cup.
But against quality opposition in Croatia, the lack of that top-line midfielder was evident. The same thing happened on Saturday against Spain.
The game reminded us that Southgate and England do not have a plan b. And arguably since Jamie Vardy’s semi-retirement, they don’t have an alternative striker to Harry Kane, either.
It means they struggle when things get difficult. They can get past lesser sides through ability and tactical nous, but that world class quality remains elusive.
Southgate can only work with the players at his disposal. But right now that doesn’t include a world-class, game-changing, match-dictating midfielder.
Next up for England is a friendly with Switzerland on Tuesday, and they’re 7/10 favourites to win and end what has become a three-game losing streak.
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