With the Euro 2021 tournament fast approaching, the excitement of 'what could be' is starting to bubble around the nation, with England fans dreaming of a good showing at the huge EVENT.
To kick things off, England had 3 World Cup '22 qualifying games this week to give Gareth Southgate ideas and preparation for the big tournament in the summer. These games were played against San Marino, Albania and Poland respectively.
England vs San Marino ~ 5-0
The first of the 3 matches was against regular underdogs San Marino, of which are ranked number 210 in the official FIFA world ranking list. So, pretty much everyone was expecting a comfortable victory for the hosts.
The scoreline reflected this, as well as 85% possession by Southgate's men, however many could argue that poor finishing limited England to only 5 goals. Jesse Lingard had many shots throughout the game but failed to make the score-sheet, as well as Calvert-Lewin spurring a couple of golden opportunities.
Some may say that 2 of the midfield 3 were most impressive, those being James Ward-Prowse and Mason Mount. The pair continued their fantastic club form by achieving 8.3 and 8.8 ratings respectively (according to SofaScore). With JWP notching up 5 key passes, and Mount recording a phenomenal 8 key passes. With these performances, they would have definitely given Southgate food for thought for the Euro's in the summer.
Albania vs England ~ 0-2
Given that Albania came into this match ranked number 66 in the world, again, many expected England to dominate and cruise to a easy win, albeit to be careful on the break from this Albania team that doesn't lack desire, passion and even quality.
Lining up in the regular 433 formation, Gareth Southgate definitely raised a few eyebrows with the midfield selection consisting of 2 typical ball winners and Mason Mount against, on paper - highly inferior opposition. England dominated the game throughout, with them racking up 81% possession in the first half but only 2 shots on target.
It took 38 minutes for Gareth's men to break the deadlock, created through a wonderful cross by Luke Shaw that Kane was licking his lips for as he scored an impressive diving header.
The game finished 2-0 to England after Mount scored a tidy goal midway through the second half, a curled effort past the onrushing Etrit Berisha. Luke Shaw thoroughly impressed and definitely staked a claim for the starting LB position in the England team after a torrid few years for the Manchester United man.
England vs Poland ~ 2-1
The headlines were already being written about this game before it even kicked off. Kane versus Lewandowski. Two of the best strikers in world football facing off at Wembley for their countries. Many England fans would have been worried because of Lewandowski's superb form this season and his ability to finish almost any chance he is given.
However, news broke out that he would miss the game through a knee injury that he picked up in the previous game and there was probably a nationwide sigh of relief knowing that their star player was not going to be involved.
The game was England's hardest of the 3, with it only finishing 2-1 thanks to a late volley from Harry Maguire. The game certainly provided a stern test for England, with them yet again dominating possession, but struggling to create clear-cut-chances, managing only 4 shots on target in 90 minutes.
Again in the usual 433 shape, Kalvin Phillips, Declan Rice and Mason Mount started together as a 3 man midfield and all put in smart performances, with Rice being named MOTM for the game and really showing what a player he's maturing into. 93.9% pass completion and 7 out of 9 ground duels won, the 22 year old put in a good display and will have certainly raised his stock a little.
A mistake from Stones shortly after the second half kicked off proved costly as Brighton youngster Jakub Moder scored an emphatic finish past the helpless Nick Pope who will probably be disappointed that he chose to hold his line rather than come out to close down Moder from a tight angle.
Stones was able to compose himself after the mistake and was fine from then on, even going on to set up the winner by knocking down a deep corner into the path of Maguire, who was able to strike an impressive half-volley that smashed through Szczesny's glove and into the roof of the net.
Summary and Final Thoughts -
With the next England games at the moment being the start of the group stages at the Euro's, England fans can be quietly optimistic (as we always are) that something special really can happen in a major tournament. We have an abundance of attacking talent that are young and eager to impress, it's surely just a matter of finding that balance and stability that can let these creative players shine whilst having protection from the more aggressive tacklers in midfield such as Phillips and Rice.
Perhaps we should have scored more goals in the 3 games we just had and put our opponents out of the game much more comfortably than we did. However, 2 clean sheets from 3 and 3 wins to partner that cannot be shunned, no matter what the opponent may be.
As such, a number of staff members at ISM put together what our starting 11's would be, you can see who we picked on our Tiktok HERE.
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