5 things we learnt from England's International fixtures this week
After two wins and 10 goals, there is plenty for England fans to be positive about at the moment. As Gareth Southgate's men now look odds on certainties to progress to the Euro 2020 finals next summer now would seem a good time to digest what we have seen over the past week. England have never had much of an issue qualifying for tournaments but the style of performance, coupled with the over-achievement of a Word Cup Semi final have given fans renewed optimism that this squad of players could have the ability and mentality to go one step further in the Euros.
Strength in depth
For the two qualifying games, England were without key players such as Marcus Rashford, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jesse Lingard. With other players such as Dele Alli only playing his second game in a month and the early injury against the Czech Republic to Eric Dier, Southgate has had to call upon the likes of Jaden Sanch and Callum Hudson-Odoi, both recent winners in World junior tournaments. The inclusion also of Declan Rice after his much-publicised decision to play for England instead of the Republic of Ireland also bolstered the numbers and seems justified after his assured performance against Montenegro.
Even with the long list of absentees, the backup players called in by Southgate didn't look out of place and were able to slot into the system with relative ease. This is testament to the entire structure of the National Game management where all age level teams attempt to play to the same style as the senior team. Such was the success of the younger players, seasoned Internationals may now find it difficult to regain their places once fit again.
Having a top striker is the key to success
Although by his own high standards, he had quiet games, Harry Kane still bagged himself a couple of goals across the 2 games. Due to his reputation, teams are now putting two players on the England hitman in an attempt to nullify his impact. This has actually worked to England's advantage as Kane simply has come deeper to receive the ball, thus dragging defenders out of position and creating space for other players to run into.
With a record of 22 goals in 37 caps before the age of 26, Kane looks like he may be the one to rival Wayne Rooney's all-time England goals record. Having a player who can find the net regularly is key to the success of any side. With the exception of France in the 2018 World Cup, all recently successful sides have had a player who constantly scored the goals to elevate their team to glory.
Sterling is on fire
After being public enemy number one in the World Cup, the performances of Raheem Sterling over recent Internationals have completely changes public opinion. After a glowing performance in the autumn International with Spain, Sterling continued to show his Manchester City form in these recent Internationals, hitting an opportunist hat-trick against the Czech Republic and following it up with another accomplished strike against the Montenegrans. It was not just the goals however that got Sterling his rave reviews, his all-round gameplay had pundits and fans lauding praise upon him. It has been undeniable for a while that he possesses the talent at the highest level but now he is delivering the performances on a regular basis.
The defence is still fragile
With all the praise being heaped on England's forward play, it would be easy to forget about the defensive performance. Although the Czech Republic offered very little in an attacking sense, Montenegro at least gave it a go. What will concern the England management is that, after enjoying total control for the first 15 minutes, all that work was undone when the hosts scored a goal out of the blue from their first attack. There were numerous occasions in the build-up to the goal where an England player could have intercepted and cut out the danger. Complacency like this against a top side could potentially put England out of a tournament. Whilst the score was only 2-1, Montenegro had a couple of ggilt-edgedchances to equalise, something that England will need to work on, on the training field before heading off for the Nations League finals this summer.
Racism still exists in football
The most disturbing part of the game with Montenegro was the constant abuse of England's black players throughout the game. Both Raheem Sterling and Danny Rose were subjected to taunts with monkey sounds being made towards Rose after a tackle late in the game. These taunts were picked up via the TV mics and will certainly form part of any investigation carried out by UEFA. Sterling made a point of letting the crowd know his feelings by putting his hands to his ears as part of his goal celebration after scoring England's fifth goal. Manager Gareth Southgate has confirmed that they will be reporting the matter to UEFA but it is a sorry state of affairs that this behaviour is still going on in the 21st century.