Well how about that England? (A review)

Peter David returns to walk us through England’s 1-0 win over Lithuania in their final competitive game before the World Cup.

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In England’s final World Cup Qualifier against Lithuania, Gareth Southgate opted for an experimental team that Southgate said in his pre-match interview was the system England would be aiming to succeed with in the future. England lined up in what is now a common system across Europe, three at the back with wing-backs employed in a 5-3-2/3-4-3 formation that looked to provide the flexibility to adapt to the needs of the game. On a rainy evening in Lithuania England performed in a manner that would put an insomniac to sleep. England lacked creativity for long spells and did just enough to get through with a 1-0 win.

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The first half was typified by long spells of England possession that lacked penetration and tempo. Writing that England lacked tempo has almost become a cliché but as always with clichés, there always remains an element of truth to it. England’s off the ball movement was predictable, except for Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford, and England in the early stages of the half relied on long diagonals to the wing-backs. However, these attempts at the killer ball came too late and by the time they were attempted Lithuania had adapted and England had to reset. England’s breakthrough in the first half came 25 minutes into the game as Dele Alli was caught in the box and Harry Kane buried the resulting penalty. England’s play in the next few minutes became a bit more fluid, but only marginally, as off the ball movement became slightly more inventive and passing became slightly more positive. Lithuania provided a couple of scares, the biggest occurring 10 minutes into the match when Darvydas Šernas benefitted from a Harry Maguire slip and flicked just wide of the England goal. Lithuania also defended competently through the first half, pressing as England got into dangerous areas and sitting off when England was knocking it about across the three defenders.

The second half definitely happened, because I was aware of the passage of time, but to say that it was incident free would be to underestimated how devoid of any incident the second half was. England reverted back to movement that was very similar to their play before the penalty. Much of the movement in front of the ball became predictable and the players looked for the extra second before playing the ball. This enabled Lithuania to crowd out balls into creative outlets such as Dele Alli and the game broke down into England playing the ball about safely and occasionally testing the Lithuania goalkeeper. Jack Butland was tested early on by compatriot Michael Keane as his attempted clearance looked destined for the bottom corner but Butland reacted well. The introduction of Sturridge and Lingard into the game brought me a brief hope that England would play with a bit more spark but neither were given the ball in promising positions that enable them to play to their talents. Lithuania had an opportunity to scare England late on as Deivydas Matulevičius broke free of the England defence but fired straight at Butland.

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Overall this game definitely happened and that’s about as nice as anyone can be about it. If this game was a metaphor for anything then it was of a man (England) turning up for work because he has to otherwise he’ll be fined. He punches in on time and does just about enough to get through the day without being noticed by his line manager. Most people watching the game will have forgotten about the details of the game by tomorrow, but that’s more than understandable given details were few and far between.

Pros: Harry Winks looked lively, often aiming to move the ball forward and spark some life into the game. Winks looked comfortable but Lithuania’s midfield is considerably lower in quality than teams Winks has faced in his club career and against better opposition Winks’ future England career will be determined.

Cons: I watched all of this game. England almost certainly learnt nothing from this game about either the new players or new system deployed as Lithuania lack the quality to test the system. England’s biggest challenge seems to be England as decision making and incisiveness disappears for portions of the game.

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