Three Lions' four in attack sharpening their claws for World Cup
World Cup friendlies are quintessential for everyone involved, the manager, players and fans. They let countries know where they stand. Managers generally put out their first team, allow the players to gel, then try to fix whatever isn't working. England vs Nigeria gave us a lot of answers, especially at the back.
- Jordan Pickford looks like Gareth Southgate's preferred goalkeeper.
- Kyle Walker will continue at right centre-back.
- Gary Cahill's inclusion raised many eyebrows, but a goal and a solid performance turned a few heads.
While the defence looked a bit shaky in the second half, Southgate's three-at-the-back gamble has paid off. But any disagreements over that are for another day. Let's talk about the attack.
England set up in a 3-3-3-1 with Eric Dier as the holding midfielder, Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young as the wingbacks, Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling all playing behind talisman Harry Kane. And that front four just took the game off the Super Eagles' hands. Alli and Lingard set up on either side of Dier while Sterling played a more advanced role.
Ever since Jesse Lingard's rise, one question has been irking English fans. Should the manager go with Alli or Lingard? As it turns out, the answer is both. In the pre-match press conference, Southgate stated that there was no reason why not.
I don't see it as a straight contest between any individuals. Absolutely [Alli and Lingard] could play together.
Southgate was proven right. Alli and Lingard together are a dream come true. Their movement on and off the ball is top class. They both find space between the lines and create scoring chances. Their courage and direct styles make both top footballers. Even better, they linked up smoothly with Sterling and Kane.
From kickoff, Alli was at the centre of the Three Lions' build-up play and utilised possession very well. He played Sterling through one-on-one against the keeper. It was a tight angle for Sterling to score, but a chance nonetheless. The Spurs winger created another chance when he passed it to Young inside the six-yard box. Unfortunately, Young couldn't convert either.
Then, Lingard joined the fun. With a quick one-two, the duo created space for Kieran Trippier to deliver a low cross. Lingard was on the other end to earn a corner. Kane often dropped deep and passed a quarterback-style long ball to an overlapping Alli. His clubmate controlled it majestically, then found Sterling. The Manchester City star shot over the bar. Lingard also released Sterling on the inside right channel, but the pass was slightly overhit. Francis Uzoho charged out to collect, tumbling Sterling down in the process.
The finishing wasn't clinical but there was magic from the front four nonetheless. The passing, intensity and desire were what every fan wants to see. They tracked back with equal enthusiasm. Whenever Nigeria looked to counter, Alli and Lingard were nipping at their heels, allowing the Super Eagles no time.
Sterling had the most chances but couldn't convert. This has been his problem all season. He offers long runs with the ball, beating defenders and working quick one-two's that help the side. But, his final ball must improve or England will be hurting in Russia. Still, he put on an impressive performance, earning an assist.
I should have scored. But that’s how it goes.
England were caught out a bit in the second half. Nigeria's tactical switch and desire to make a game of it after going down 2-0 in the first 45 offered their fans hope. The home side was more limited offensively, although the midfield still held up for the most part.
The system and the personnel are perfect when England expect to dominate possession. Kane was superb at dropping off to contribute to the build-up. Alli, Lingard and Sterling all have goals in them. Best of all, Southgate is probably the first England manager in some time to establish his own method and stick with it.
I thought he [Raheem Sterling] played well. I thought the front four, with some of the movement and interplay, we looked a threat. I thought Dele [Alli] and Jesse [Lingard] made great unselfish runs from midfield and as I say, slightly better decision making in the final third we would’ve scored even more.
Kane, Alli, Sterling and Lingard must start against Tunisia and Panama and be ruthless. Against Belgium, the most underperforming player should be dropped for another holding midfielder. England fans are finally excited about an attacking system rather than just individual abilities. The quartet has clicked well and could well be England's hope for World Cup glory.