Clinical, refreshing and full of potential: One great night in Seville for England
Under Gareth Southgate, England are becoming both good to watch and delivering results — none more eye-catching that last night’s effort in Seville.
It was arguably a performance that was coming. England played well at Wembley against the same opponents, but their failure to take their chances cost them dearly. They achieved their primary objective in Rijeka in not losing but could do no more. There, they could and should have come away with three points.
No such complaints in Seville, where it all came together despite relentless Spanish pressure in the second half. They were solid enough to keep Spain at bay when they had to and utterly clinical in front of goal. Three shots on target. Three goals. Muchas gracias.
You can see that this is an England team playing with freedom. Freedom to take on players, freedom to try things, freedom to dribble or pass the ball out of defence rather than just clearing it away and waiting for the next attack.
This is clear from watching Ross Barkley and Harry Winks in midfield. Against the likes of Spain, there will be times where you won’t see much of the ball, but England held firm, did not panic and kept things tight.
When Barkley and Winks did get on the ball, refreshingly, they were always looking to find space, pick a pass and move the ball forwards. It was Barkley’s brilliant chip that led to Raheem Sterling’s second and England’s third. Now both are fit and involved at club level, it’s a partnership that is well worth persisting with.
At the back, Jordan Pickford has now made the number one jersey his own. He reminds me of a couple of England players from other sports — cricket’s Matt Prior and rugby union’s Owen Farrell.
Prior was a fine attacking batsman and a brilliant motivator behind the stumps. However, the tradeoff England made was that his glovework wasn’t always as sharp as his rivals and he might miss the occasional chance. Pickford will make the odd error — as he did last night — but England gain enormously from having him in the side.
Should Spain have been awarded a penalty after he grappled with Rodrigo? Probably. However, England should have been given a penalty when Sterling burst through early in the second half. Provided you are making chances at the other end, you can afford the luxury of the odd error or nervous moment at the other.
You can hear Pickford constantly organising the backline and challenging his players — that’s where I see the comparison with Farrell, who immediately started doing so when making his debut in 2012 — throughout. Harry Kane wears the captain’s armband, but Pickford calls the shots.
Furthermore, it is his ability with ball in hand or at his feet that sets him apart from his rivals. Time and again he will pick a pass and turn defence into attack before England’s opponents have had time to reset. It was such a play that eventually put Marcus Rashford in the clear for England’s second.
And the best news of all? This England team has the potential to get even better. These players are still young and relatively inexperienced at international level. They ought to improve the more they play. Their run to the World Cup semi-finals might yet prove to be the start of something special for this group of players rather than a once-in-a-generation performance.