As England lost 3-2 at the Stade de France to a French team playing with 10 men, here’s 5 things we learnt…
1. England’s reliance on Harry Kane continues
Coming only three days after Kane rescued a point against Scotland in the dying minutes, he scored both of England’s goals here in Paris. Still only 23, Kane is perhaps England’s best number nine for many years, and faces little competition for a starting berth. Alan Shearer himself sees Kane as the most likely player to surpass his all-time Premier League goal scoring record.
He is a player of genuine goal scoring prowess, and should now be a shoo-in for permanent captaincy. England fans should pray that (a) Kane stays fit between now and the start of World Cup 2018 and (b) Mauricio Pochettino manages to keep the spine of his Tottenham team intact, particularly the Kane-Alli dynamic. The blueprint from Kyle Walker of angling for a move to Manchester City is nothing new, but it’s not good for England, and should be castigated from all angles.
2. Paul Pogba is the real deal
While it’s important not to go overboard in what was essentially a dead-rubber friendly match, Pogba showed glimpses of his dazzling brilliance last night. His p***takery was on show throughout, mocking several England players with ease. Eric Dier consistently fell into Pogba’s trap, the Englishman chugged about in midfield like a discharging aframax oil tanker, with a similar turning circle. Gary Cahill also got short shrift from a tricky Pogba step-over as France continued their second-half dominance.
Pogba was their chief architect throughout the match. While his first season back at Old Trafford was not a resounding success, it wasn’t a disaster either. Perhaps most telling of all last season was Jose Mourinho’s varying choice of captaincy, even handing it to Maroune Fellaini. With nothing short of a title race good enough for United this season, Pogba will have to show more than just glimpses of his talent. As United will be without the towering presence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the campaign ahead, it is now Pogba’s time to shine.
3. Defensive frailties are a cause for concern
Historically, England has prided itself on defensive solidity, shrewdness and flair, all embodied by the late great Bobby Moore. The national side has often had an abundance of centre-backs, although it has fizzled in recent years. Even in the last twenty years, we have been forced to accommodate players in the ilk of Ledley King and Jamie Carragher as a sitting midfielder and right-back respectively. Based on the current team, those days are gone.
Phil Jones often makes good tackles he never needed to even make in the first place. John Stones continues to frustrate, currently playing a long way short of the calibre necessary for international success. Gary Cahill needs an assured centre-back who won’t make mistakes playing alongside him, not John Stones.
Our defence look utterly dumbfounded when faced with any degree of dynamism in our opponents. It’s no doubt a headache for Southgate, whether he admits it or not.
4. Southgate is willing to experiment
Southgate surprisingly chose to play Kyle Walker on the left side of defence in the second half. Southgate’s logic must surely have been to thrawt Ousmane Dembele so that when he chose to head inside from the right flank onto his favoured left foot, he would be turning into Walker’s favoured right foot. It’s a tactic which Guus Hiddink used to great effect, particularly in Champions League matches as Chelsea manager. He once started Ashley Cole at right-back and Jose Bosingwa at left-back, notably against Bayern Munich. Whenever Arjen Robben or Franck Ribery dribbled in from the flank, they were inadvertently heading into Cole and Bosingwa’s respective comfort zones. Walker, however, looked out of his depth throughout, at one point even being outpaced by Dembele.
Southgate also started with Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton, who made two good saves, only to parry them into harm’s way and concede two first-half goals. Jack Butland replaced Heaton at half-time and look assured enough without ever dazzling. Also, neither of them wore a cap. It’s progress.
His experiments didn’t really work here, but at least Southgate is willing to be flexible and daring in his tactical approach.
5. Video refereeing came into play
The use of the video assistant referee came into play as Dele Alli was brought down for Kane’s penalty conversion. The decision led to Raphael Varane’s dismissal, and was met with howls from the home fans.
Despite criticism from the commentary team, I like the idea of video refereeing. It works well in rugby and it all adds to the frisson when you’re in the pub. We now look back at goal-line technology and wonder why it was never instilled much earlier. It’s progress, let’s get on with it.
Chris Henderson – follow me on Twitter here