On a lively night at Wembley, England blew the Czech Republic away 5-0.
The win gave The Three Lions the perfect start to their Euro 2020 qualification period. What did we learn?
1. Raheem Sterling has the sauce
When you’re hot, you’re hot. Raheem Sterling played really well at the 2018 World Cup but couldn’t seem to buy a goal (with all of that money certain media outlets make sure to remind us he earns). People wanted him dropped from the side, but Gareth Southgate showed faith in the Manchester City man, and that has paid off.
Sterling scored twice in his first 45 caps. In the three caps since he’s found the back of the net five times, including a supreme hat-trick tonight against the Czechs. Sterling was utterly dynamic in his movement, showed by the way in which he bagged his now trademark goal – a far-post tap-in from a low cross – to open the scoring for England.
After that we saw just how red hot Sterling is now. His second goal was a delightfully composed turn and terrific finish on his weaker foot, but the fortune he had with the ball bouncing to him is the kind of thing that just wouldn’t have happened in Moscow. And his third goal took a meaningful deflection to carry it in. Sterling was well worth his hat-trick but the way in which it came showed just how important momentum can be in football. Sterling has the sauce right now.
2. Gareth’s gamble pays off (unintentionally)
Gareth Southgate started this match against the Czech Republic with three midfielders well short of match fitness. Eric Dier, Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli. All three men have been hobbled with injuries of late (Dier and Dele for much of 2019) and so selecting them all together was a gamble, particularly against a team as likely to sit deep as the Czechs.
And for the first 20 minutes of the game, it looked like Southgate had bet on the wrong horses. All three of England’s midfielders looked rusty. There were a lot of passes, but none carried any penetrative quality. Then Eric Dier had to go off injured and Ross Barkley was the man introduced in his stead. Instantly England moved up a gear as Barkley pushed the tempo more, making the kind of smart passes the other midfielders weren’t.
It was Barkley’s pass behind the midfield line that enabled the move for England’s first goal, a 25-pass move that had all but one player touch the ball. Without Barkley it’s likely that passing sequence would have fizzled out, but Barkley turned it into a goal (and played wonderfully after that). Southgate’s gamble of picking three half-fit midfielders paid off as it was Dier’s injury that allowed him to unleash Barkley.
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3. Mount Maguire
As much as England’s forwards will steal the headlines, from Jadon Sancho’s sensational start to Raheem Sterling’s goalscoring to that incredible Harry Kane pass for the first goal – there was another key player putting in a more low key display: Harry Maguire.
Without John Stones and Joe Gomez, Maguire was the senior centre-back alongside Michael Keane who’s having a topsy turvy kind of season. And Maguire stood tall both literally and figuratively. He overpowered every Czech player who came near him and marshalled England’s back-line with supreme authority. He wasn’t at his dominant set-piece best, but he showed that he is every bit as solid as any of England’s bigger name defenders despite still being at struggling Leicester.
4. Special Sancho shows his worth
With Marcus Rashford out through injury, Jadon Sancho got handed a start. The teenager has been sensational in Germany for Borussia Dortmund, topping the Bundesliga assist charts with 12. And when given the chance to strut his stuff for his country, he didn’t disappoint.
Sancho was running at the Czech side all night long. Whether staying wide or even coming narrow he showed no fear at all. His intelligent movement enabled England to open the scoring when he scorched his way behind the Czech full-back to collect Harry Kane’s exemplary pass and, with no hesitation, he slapped the ball low and accurately across goal for Raheem Sterling to tap it home.
Sancho spent the rest of the night fearlessly running at the Czechs and using the ball smartly, but that assist was such a sublime highlight because it showed just what he can offer that no other England starter can: classic orthodox wing-play. Raheem Sterling is a wing-forward, Marcus Rashford a striker who can play wide, but Jadon Sancho is a true winger, a creative force – and that makes him special.
5. England are no one summer wonders
Everyone wondered if England would be able to carry the momentum of summer 2018 forward. It was such an incredible period of time where Gareth Southgate’s men played so well and with so much confidence and positive – how could you sustain that?
Well, Southgate has found a way. England’s display tonight was full of the kind of verve and excitement (well, once Barkley came on) that they showed in Russia. They functioned so well as a team, with the players complimenting each other with their movement and intention.
After the match Southgate spoke of the 4-3-3 as allowing England to get “good offensive players on the field, and higher up the pitch as well.” And that summed it up, England now are the side that play with intelligence to the strengths of their brightest talents.
138 – England featured two players aged 18 or younger (Hudson-Odoi and Sancho) in an international match for the first time in 138 years, since doing so on February 26th 1881 vs Wales (Thurston Rostron and Jimmy Brown). Cubs. #ENGCZE pic.twitter.com/hRn77yEAkT
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 22, 2019
Even the players off the bench: Callum Hudson-Odoi came on late and added so much verticality to England’s side. Pace and penetration. When Marcus Rashford comes back and Hudson-Odoi and Sancho are England’s first-change options off the bench, Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions will be a fearsome prospect for any side in the world. They are no one-season wonders.