In a comfortable night of football, England thrashed Montenegro 1-5.
The win gives England a perfect two wins from two to start their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign. Who were the winners and losers?
Winner: Ross Barkley
Remember when Ross Barkley looked a lost cause? When he was an inconsistent and oft-injured midfield maverick who was more often dud than stud? Hard to recall that now he’s finally looking like the young maestro England have been praying for him to become.
Barkley bossed the game against Montenegro. Rocking the no. 8 shirt from the start he was constantly England’s brightest midfielder. He set-up England’s equaliser with a delightful free-kick, perfectly curled and weighted for Michael Keane to score.
Not satisfied with that he bagged a brace either side of half-time to put England in a commanding lead. His first was a poacher’s finish, tapping home a Callum Hudson-Odoi cross. His second an emphatic finish as a Raheem Sterling cross broke loose.
Still there was more to come from Barkley as it was his wonderfully weighted pass that sent Sterling clean through and allowed him to set-up Harry Kane for England’s fourth goal. Two goals, one assist and one pre-assist. Hard to ask for more from a midfielder!
Loser: Michael Keane
With John Stones and Joe Gomez out injured, Michael Keane has been Gareth Southgate’s go-to partner for the moving mountain that is Harry Maguire. And whilst Keane generally played well against Montenegro his error (or errors) for the home side’s shock opener will live long in the memory of Gareth Southgate.
Keane first dealt very poorly with a high ball, heading it low and right back into the direction it came from. Obviously anyone can make a mistake, but when you follow it up with a tackle as weak as the one Keane put on Marko Vesovic, bad things will happen. True enough Vesovic ruthlessly nutmegged Keane before bending the ball around Mount Maguire and into the back of the net!
Winner: Michael Keane
Of course one of the best things about football is the opportunities it affords one for redemption. Less than 15 minutes after his blunder had given Montenegro the lead, Ross Barkley lifted a peach of a cross into the opponent’s area and Keane rose, soaring for a second before guiding a delicious header back across goal and into the back of the net. 1-1 and crisis over. Keane restored a bit of his pride and as long as people don’t focus on the game tape too much he comes out looking pretty good.
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Loser: Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich spent the January transfer window trying to sign Callum Hudson-Odoi from Chelsea. They saw what Jadon Sancho was up to with Dortmund, realised they didn’t have the financial clout to sign him directly, so went to get another young English mercurial winger.
Bayern’s offer was around £30m, and went as high as £40m, but Chelsea rebuffed any approaches even as Hudson-Odoi made it clear he wanted to leave. That’s bad luck for Bayern because after tonight’s display you can probably double Hudson-Odoi’s pricetag.
That’s if Chelsea even consider letting him leave. With Eden Hazard likely to depart for Real Madrid, Hudson-Odoi is perfectly placed to inherit the Belgian’s role in the side and the go-to attacking playmaker. All night long England were sending balls his way and the youngster took it all in stride, revelling in the responsibility and roaring at Montenegro. He picked up an assist for Barkley’s opening goal and was just sublime, creating so many chances both for himself and his team-mates.
Winner: Gareth Southgate
Gareth Southgate, can he do any wrong right now? He rotated his side after the weekend’s win against Switzerland and with the exception of Danny Rose, everyone who came in did him proud. Even those who stayed on, like Michael Keane, showed so much mental strength that even though he made a mistake, he didn’t let him get it down.
And then replacing teenage Jadon Sancho with another teenager, Callum Hudson-Odoi, a player who has yet to start a Premier League match for Chelsea, could have backfired spectacularly. Instead? Hudson-Odoi was sublime. Raheem Sterling started on the left, then Southgate moved him to the right and the Manchester City man bagged a goal and sublime assist.
Every decision Southgate made paid off in a big bad way. England cruised to an away victory playing beautiful attacking football with all their major players getting on the scoresheet. A wonderful performance.
When Raheem Sterling scored his goal he celebrated by putting his fingers around his ears, as if to make a mockery of monkey chants directed towards him and Danny Rose. This is a disgraceful thing to happen in a match and the fact that it’s still so prevalent through stadia in Europe despite UEFA’s many initiatives to combat racism (who knew arm patches and an advert of footballers saying ‘racism is bad’ would just be empty platitudes?) is genuinely depressing.
Aleksander Ceferin needs to make sure that UEFA get serious about tackling racism and start issuing points deductions because it’s clear that fines and stadium bans are no deterrent and fans won’t stop behaving like this unless it starts costing their team points. UEFA can’t fix racism as a societal issue, but they can do much much better to ensure it doesn’t rear its ugly head during football matches.