Clinical England roar in Spain

Raheem_Sterling_2018

Written by Adam McGroarty (@AdamMcGroarty1)

England’s ruthless combination of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, and Marcus Rashford tore Spain to shreds in the UEFA Nations League match played in Seville on Monday night, with England triumphing 3-2.

A Sterling double and a goal from Rashford had England three goals up at the break, but Paco Alcacer and Sergio Ramos, at the death, were able to pull goals back for the Spaniards.

Gareth Southgate made three changes from the side that drew 0-0 away at Croatia on Friday night. The inclusion of Trippier, Gomez and Winks brought a much needed burst of energy into the line-up. ‘Captain Kane’ retained his spot up top with Rashford and Sterling playing either side of him, forming an unchanged front three. Eric Dier was the deep midfielder in the middle of a three, with Barkley and Winks pushing further up the pitch. John Stones’ booking in Croatia on Friday meant he was ruled out of this fixture, so Joe Gomez slotted into his place, with Trippier replacing Walker at right-back.

As for Spain, Manchester United’s David De Gea was in goal, with Jonny, Nacho, Ramos and Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso all forming the defensive line. Saul and Thiago played their part in a three-man midfield either side of Sergio Busquets, who came into this encounter fresh off the back of his dominant display at Wembley a fortnight ago in the Champions League against Tottenham. Real Madrid’s ‘Golden Boy’ Marco Asensio and Iago Aspas formed an attacking trio playing either side of Rodrigo.

The game began in a frantic manner, with the opening five minutes being more entertaining to watch than the entirety of the game against Croatia! Jonny, who is on loan at Wolves, was put through clear on goal in just the third minute but Trippier did well to get across and prevent a shot from the right-back. There was a rather controversial moment just twelve minutes in, when Dier closed down Ramos and swept the Real Madrid defender onto the floor. Dier did manage to get the ball but he also clattered through the legs of Ramos, and the referee gave the former Sporting Lisbon man a yellow card.

After England were able to weather Spain’s storm that was rapidly brewing, the Three Lions were able to make some chances of their own. The first of those chances came in the 16th minute of play. Marcus Rashford had the ball on the left side of the pitch and managed to pick out Sterling with a sublime pass across the Spanish defensive line. Sterling took a touch and finely put the ball past De Gea, and into the very top of the net. England were leading and Raheem Sterling had scored his first ever away goal for England.

The Spaniards continued to play their predictable style of play, passing with high intensity. At no moment did they rush any chances. They nearly got what their patience deserved in the 23rd minute when a free-kick was put into the area, off of Rodrigo and onto the post, a lifeline for Southgate’s men who were clinging onto their precious advantage.

After a good five minute spell, it was England who were able to double their advantage with a superb bit of play. Harry Kane received the ball near the halfway line and began to run at the Spanish defence which drew them out of position. Rashford had made a run and Kane did brilliantly to find him in the box. Rashford took a light touch, and with the ball bouncing up at him he smashed it past De Gea, his Manchester United teammate, and into the bottom corner to double England’s lead.

The spell after the second goal was a major turning point in the game. England were being clinical throughout and finishing the chances that were given to them, something Rashford certainly didn’t do against Croatia. They also started to develop a stance in the game with some good spells of possession. This ultimately led to more chances being created, one which Kane made for himself on the edge of the box when he tried a shot, but it was blocked away.

However, the captain got straight back into the game and managed to create a golden chance for England in the 38th minute. Barkley played a well-weighted chipped ball from outside of the box to Kane, who was peeling away down the right side of the box. Kane stretched out his leg and managed to clip the ball along the line to Sterling, who had an open goal to nestle the ball into. England, World Cup semifinalists, ranked above Spain, were winning at Spain by three goals. The 3,000 fans that made the trip were jubilant. Sterling had got his second of the night which saw England go into half time with a 3-0 lead. He scored more goals in that half than he had managed in his previous 45 matches for England.

Half time must have been a tricky one for Southgate. Did he want to change things up? How soon would it be before fresh legs are needed? It would have been very challenging keeping up with Spain’s high press for the whole half. In the end, it appeared to be a counter-attacking tactic where England would stay deep until possession was retained, and then the likes of Kane, Sterling and Rashford would rush forward.

But Spain came out searching for goals, with Asensio testing Pickford with an audacious effort in the 50th minute to keep the Everton man on his toes. So it wasn’t long before Spain put on Paco Alcacer, the Barcelona man who is on a two-year loan at Borussia Dortmund, fresh from his brace against Wales. The poacher had an immediate impact. Alcacer came on in the 56th minute along with Dani Ceballos, a youngster, and by the 58th minute Spain had a goal back – Alcacer himself the scorer after his header from a corner looped over the diving arm of Pickford and into the back of the net.

It was at this moment when Spain started to pile the pressure on England and in the 63rd minute it was clear that this was taking its toll. Pickford was caught out in an attempt to out-skill Rodrigo by dragging the ball back, and the striker closed him down and was through on goal. A hugely controversial moment came then, when Pickford dived into a challenge in an attempt to win the ball, and Rodrigo went down causing a mass outcry from the Spaniards for a penalty. But the referee didn’t give in and awarded Spain a corner instead.

England were back to grasping onto a precious lead that would never have seemed in any doubt during the first half, but Spain kept the pressure flowing. After having an additional seven minutes of added time to withstand, Ramos finally found a way through with the last action in the game, a powerful header.

This put a dampener on England’s victorious night in Seville, but the first half will go down in the history books as the second time Spain have conceded three in the first half at home, ever. A very positive display for England overall, a big contrast to Friday’s performance where missed chances were rued. Instead, it was the clinical threat that won England the match in Spain. Southgate’s men sit second in the table consisting of Spain and Croatia with top spot still up for grabs.

Player Ratings:

England

Pickford 6 – Made one error which could have resulted in a penalty, but made good passes to kickstart England’s attacks.

Trippier 8 – Very lively, came across to cover and block shots, constantly bombing back and forth down right side of the pitch.

Gomez 7 – Made some good blocks and decisive tackles, looked comfortable on the ball.

Harry Maguire 7 – Good in the air to counteract the aerial threat of Spain, made his presence known but not always comfortable.

Ben Chilwell 7 – May not have been as effective as he was in the Croatia game, but certainly did not look out of place against Spain.

Eric Dier 7 – Aggressive when he needed to be, decisive tackles retained the ball for England.

Ross Barkley 8 – A sublime ball to Kane for England’s third goal, effective and creative from midfield.

Harry Winks 7 – Not as effective as Barkley in an attacking sense but stood up to the challenge. Did very well against a strong midfield, very comfortable on the ball.

*Raheem Sterling 9 – Fantastic finish for the first goal, he did well to get in the right position in the box for his second. Caused a constant threat running at the Spanish defence.

Marcus Rashford 9 – An excellent performance considering his poor run out against Croatia. Was ruthless in front of goal and showed great skill in his well-struck shot to double England’s lead.

Harry Kane 8 – Although he did not score, some have dubbed this as his best performance in an England shirt (without scoring), the Captain led by example and showed great creativity in his two assists, involved in all of the three England goals.

Subs: Walker 7 (for Barkley 76’), Alexander – Arnold 6 (for Trippier 85’), Chalobah 6 (for Winks 90’) 

*Man of the Match

Spain

De Gea 6, Jonny 5, Ramos 6, Nacho 5, Alonso 6, Thiago 5, Busquets 6, Saul 5, Aspas 5, Asensio 6, Rodrigo 5

Subs: Alcacer 6, Morata 5, Ceballos 5

UEFA NATIONS LEAGUE A – GROUP 4

  1. SPAIN … 6pts
  2. ENGLAND … 4pts
  3. CROATIA … 1pt

(next fixtures: Croatia vs Spain 15th November, England vs Croatia 18th November)