Football Features

“It’s gone” – Alexander-Arnold injury blights England performance despite 1-0 win over Austria

By Chris Smith

England 1-0 Austria stats

Published: 22:30, 2 June 2021

England beat Austria 1-0 at the Riverside Stadium on Wednesday night in the first of two friendlies before the Three Lions head to the European Championships.

Gareth Southgate’s men were made to work hard for the victory but a 56th-minute strike from Bukayo Saka was enough to see the Austrians off.

So, with Euro 2020 fast approaching, what did we learn about England on Wednesday?

1. The kids make a statement

One of the highlights of England’s Euro 2020 squad announcement was the inclusion of teenagers Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka. While fellow youngsters Phil Foden and Mason Mount have quickly become household names, these two have had to really force their way into the England set-up, but both are deserving after fine individual seasons for Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal, respectively.

On Wednesday, they made it clear that neither intends to merely make up the numbers this summer. Saka crowned an excellent performance with his first international goal, firing into an empty net after Jack Grealish had been tackled in the box, but getting forward with purpose to put himself in the right position in the first place. ‘Purpose’ summed up his night perfectly, with the 19-year-old driving forward with the ball at every opportunity, looking to commit defenders in one-on-ones and create openings for the Three Lions. He could be a real wildcard from the bench for Southgate.

And it was Bellingham who turned the ball over inside the England half before quickly getting it to Grealish to instigate the goalscoring attack in the first place. Throughout the night, Bellingham was one of England’s standout performers at both ends of the pitch, distributing the ball with calm and precision, getting stuck into tackles and tearing around the pitch with relentless energy.

Neither Saka nor Bellingham will be satisfied with a playing similar role to that which Theo Walcott endured at the 2006 World Cup this summer.

2. Southgate left with a double injury worry

Having international friendlies before a major tournament is understandable. After a long club season, managers need time to both assess their squad and get individual players accustomed to different tactical set-ups than they’re used to at club level. But there’s always the risk and fear of key players picking up major injuries.

Jack Grealish was one of the unfortunate England stars to limp out of Wednesday’s clash with Austria, leaving the pitch in the 71st minute and immediately applying an ice pack to his shin. Given the robust treatment he was subjected to from the Austrian players, it’s hardly surprising that Grealish was eventually forced off the pitch.

From his relaxed demeanour on the bench, it didn’t look like Grealish’s injury was too serious and after the match, he confirmed his withdrawal was merely precautionary, which is good. He is one of a host of players still battling for a place in Southgate’s starting XI, but also one of the few mavericks in the England squad able to dance through the opposition and pull a rabbit out of the hat.

Perhaps more worrying is the injury picked up by Trent Alexander-Arnold. For all the back and forth over whether or not the Liverpool right-back would actually be included in the squad, he is without a doubt one of England’s best chance creators and lined up from the start on Wednesday night.

Things appeared to be going well and Alexander-Arnold put in a solid performance under intense scrutiny. That was until the final five minutes when, routinely clearing the ball in his own half, the 22-year-old pulled up with what appeared to be a pulled muscle. Alexander-Arnold was helped off the pitch with a truly anguished look on his face, which does not bode well for his chances this month.

ITV’s coverage speculated that Alexander-Arnold could be seen saying “it’s gone” when asked about the injury by physios, while Gareth Southgate seemed worried after the match, despite stressing they don’t yet know the extent of the problem.

3. Pickford keeps England safe again

Jordan Pickford has certainly had his low points for Everton over the last few years, a number of which have come against Liverpool, while he has routinely let in shots that any top-class goalkeeper should be gobbling up.

But the 27-year-old was much improved over the final few months of the campaign, keeping four clean sheets in seven games and commanding his box with much more authority.

That is the sort of form we’re used to seeing from Pickford at international level, with the former Sunderland man rarely, if ever, letting England down. And on Wednesday, he once again vindicated the long-standing faith Southgate has put in him as the Three Lions’ No.1.

Pickford’s distribution was absolutely sensational on the night, with that laser-guided left foot picking out white shirts as if the ball was magnetically attracted. And his fingertip save to deny Marcel Sabitzer just after the hour-mark was a demonstration of the sort of reflexes and shot-stopping prowess Pickford must display against Europe’s best at the Euros.

Sure, there was a hairy moment at the end when Pickford failed to properly clear a cross in his own box but overall, this was a solid performance from England’s first-choice stopper.

Four things you might have missed from Wednesday’s other internationals

1. Landmark Depay goals deny Scotland a famous win

Things haven’t exactly been smooth for the Netherlands under Frank de Boer so far and on Wednesday, they were given another unwelcome test when Scotland came from behind to lead 2-1 in a neutral-ground friendly in the Algarve.

Thankfully, Memphis Depay was twice on hand to equalise, doing so for the second time in the 89th minute. In the process, Depay moved onto 25 international goals in just 63 caps, taking him one clear of Oranje legend Marco van Basten.

Mind you, he’ll have to replicate that goalscoring form at the Euros and take his nation to glory to be considered in the same elite category as Van Basten.

2. Karim Benzema endures mixed return to international action

For the first time since October 2015, Karim Benzema wore the blue of France after finally being brought back into the international fold by Didier Deschamps. Given Les Bleus’ existing firepower, that is a truly terrifying prospect.

On the face of it, things seemed to go quite well for the Real Madrid man, with France putting three past Wales and keeping a clean sheet in a straightforward night’s work.

However, for the third time in his career, Benzema fluffed the chance to score from the penalty spot, which would have been the cherry on top of what will undoubtedly be an emotional night for the striker. All three of those penalty misses have come in international football, so Deschamps might want to keep Benzema away from the ball if France are forced to a shootout later this month.

3. Florian Neuhaus’ star continues to rise

The rise of Florian Neuhaus as one of the Bundesliga’s premier central midfielders has been a joy to watch over the past few years. The Borussia Monchengladbach man is fully deserving of the links to some of Europe’s biggest clubs.

He also richly deserves the six caps he’s picked up for Germany so far, with Neuhaus truly possessing the ability to be at the centre of Die Mannschaft’s rebuild. Three of those caps have come from the start, including in Wednesday night’s 1-1 friendly draw with Denmark.

Neuhaus proved once again that he’s well suited to life as an international footballer, grabbing his second goal for Germany shortly after half-time. An achievement that’ll do no harm to his stock around Europe, which is quickly trending upwards.

4. Erling Haaland ends mini international drought

At club level, Erling Haaland has been a force of nature over the past few years, scoring 57 goals in 59 appearances across all competitions since joining Borussia Dortmund in January 2019.

But did you know that the 20-year-old had failed to score in his last four caps for Norway ahead of Wednesday night? Well, Haaland finally put that mini-drought behind him, scoring a 92nd-minute winner as Norway beat Luxembourg 1-0.

Even with a four-game drought, Haaland still takes his total to seven goals in 11 international caps so far.

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