England win ugly
It was not a pretty performance by England at the Riverside stadium, but a goal from Bukayo Saka ultimately ensured a 1-0 victory over a dogged Austria side that seemed more intent on fouling the Three Lions than winning the game.
It is difficult to take too much away from the result or the performance, given that England remain without seven players who would be in and around the starting XI as a result of Champions and Europa League final involvement. Nevertheless, there was still plenty to enjoy about the players on show. Here’s what we learned.
5. Jude Bellingham made up for Henderson’s absence
At 17-years-old, it is no small task to be asked to fill the shoes of a Premier League and Champions League winner. However, that is exactly what Jude Bellingham did. Silky on the ball and consistently well positioned, the Englishman took to the international stage like a duck to water, progressing the ball well and providing a good option for the defenders to play out through.
There was debate over pretty much every position, but no one really debated over whether Jude Bellingham should have been part of the England squad.
Just shows the level the 17-year-old is at 🔥 pic.twitter.com/JRQWC7bYtw
— SPORTbible (@sportbible) June 1, 2021
England appear to have a real prospect on their hands, and while it is uncertain just how much game time the teenager will get at the tournament this summer, he would provide a more than adequate replacement for Jordan Henderson from a technical perspective, although he may lack the leadership skills of Liverpool’s captain.
4. Were right-backs worth the risk?
One of the biggest talking points before the game was Gareth Southgate’s decision to name four right-backs in his 26 man squad. With Reece James and Kyle Walker not yet in the squad after their Champions League final appearances, only two were available, yet both started.
Kieran Trippier filled in at left-back in the absence of either Luke Shaw or Ben Chilwell after their European commitments and performed adequately. On the other side, Trent Alexander-Arnold endured a difficult night, struggling to find his passing range and occasionally being caught out defensively. Whilst his quality for Liverpool is evident, it only added fuel to the argument that he does not suit Southgate’s way of playing.
A day after being named to England’s Euro 2020 squad, Trent Alexander-Arnold was forced out of their friendly against Austria with an injury 💔 pic.twitter.com/PzHWOQoT1Z
— B/R Football (@brfootball) June 2, 2021
Southgate may find himself without the young star for the tournament however. Alexander-Arnold seemed to tweak his hamstring clearing the ball, and had to be helped off the pitch. While England fans will be hoping it is nothing too serious, the look of anguish on the defender’s face and the innocuous nature of the injury suggests that it will likely not heal in time for the tournament.
3. Central defence is still a major issue
England wouldn’t be England without defensive frailties. Without first choice pairing Harry Maguire and John Stones through injury and holiday respectively, the roles were filled by Conor Coady and Tyrone Mings, ostensibly the back-ups for the upcoming tournament.
Mings.. dude pic.twitter.com/Fb0rgwiscU
— Marshall89HD (@Marshall89HD) June 2, 2021
Southgate will certainly be praying that Maguire returns sooner rather than later, as the pair looked nervy and unsure of themselves, an issue only compounded when Ben Godfrey and Ben White (Both cut from the 33 man squad) entered the fray, with England changing system to a back three as a result.
Godfrey was lucky that goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was alert to a poor backpass to prevent a horrific own goal, whilst Mings for all of his good work for Aston Villa demonstrated that he too is prone to a lapse of judgement, throwing an arm at the opposition striker in the box. On another day, the end result of that challenge could well have been a penalty and the defender will be grateful that VAR was not in operation at the Riverside stadium.
2. Bukayo Saka is a star in the making
Bukayo Saka was probably right on the fringes of Southgate’s 26 man squad, but eventually he was selected for the upcoming tournament. This was surely in no part due to his versatility, having played across the front three and at left wing-back for Arsenal this season.
Beginning the game on the left-wing, Saka showed that he was not simply in the squad to make up numbers, and found success driving at Austria’s defence. One of the brighter sparks for the Three Lions, Saka got his reward for his hard running in the second half, turning into an empty net to open the scoring and his England account.
— Jack Bibb (@JackBibb_) June 2, 2021
Following a flurry of substitutes, Saka was switched to the right-hand side, where he has predominantly lined up for Arsenal. A fabulous through ball set Dominic Calvert Lewin away, but his cross just evaded Olllie Watkins and the chance went begging.
Saka’s ability to operate on both flanks is something that could well prove crucial to Gareth Southgate, with Jadon Sancho the only other recognised right-sided option in the squad. While he may only be a bit part player at this tournament, he is a player who can certainly be counted upon when needed.
1. Jack Grealish needs to start
In case you hadn’t realised yet, Jack Grealish is quite good. So good, in fact, that Austria decided that the only way to stop him cutting through their side was to foul him.
Despite ultimately not managing to get on the scoresheet, it was Grealish that allowed Saka to tap home, and it was Grealish that all of England’s good work went through.
Handed the fabled number seven shirt ahead of the tournament, Grealish could well be a key asset for Gareth Southgate, his ability to drive with the ball matched only by Phil Foden in the England squad.
Worryingly, Grealish was spotted on the bench applying ice to his shin following his substitution, although fortunately it is not thought to be anything too serious,
With his fearlessness in tight spaces, he is just the sort of man that England will need to navigate the defences that will face them at the upcoming tournament, and the Aston Villa man must start for the Three Lions.
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|1||Manchester City FC||38||51||86|
|2||Manchester United FC||38||29||74|
|5||Leicester City FC||38||18||66|
|6||West Ham United FC||38||15||65|
|7||Tottenham Hotspur FC||38||23||62|
|11||Aston Villa FC||38||9||55|
|12||Newcastle United FC||38||-16||45|
|13||Wolverhampton Wanderers FC||38||-16||45|
|14||Crystal Palace FC||38||-25||44|
|16||Brighton & Hove Albion FC||38||-6||41|
|19||West Bromwich Albion||38||-41||26|
|20||Sheffield United FC||38||-43||23|
|Kane, Harry||Tottenham Hotspur FC||23|
|Salah, Mohamed||Liverpool FC||22|
|Fernandes, Bruno||Manchester United FC||17|
|Son, Heung Min||Tottenham Hotspur FC||17|
|Bamford, Patrick||Leeds United||17|
|Calvert-Lewin, Dominic||Everton FC||16|
|Vardy, Jamie||Leicester City FC||15|
|Watkins, Ollie||Aston Villa FC||14|
|Gundogan, Ilkay||Manchester City FC||13|
|Lacazette, Alexandre||Arsenal FC||13|
|Wilson, Callum||Newcastle United FC||12|
|Ings, Danny||Southampton FC||12|
|Wood, Chris||Burnley FC||12|
|Iheanacho, Kelechi||Leicester City FC||12|
|Rashford, Marcus||Manchester United FC||11|
|Mane, Sadio||Liverpool FC||11|
|Pereira, Matheus||West Bromwich Albion||11|
|Bale, Gareth||Tottenham Hotspur FC||11|
|Zaha, Wilfried||Crystal Palace FC||11|
|Sterling, Raheem||Manchester City FC||10|
|Player||Team||Red Cards||Yellow Cards|
|McGinn, John||Aston Villa FC||0||12|
|Gallagher, Conor||West Bromwich Albion||0||11|
|Maguire, Harry||Manchester United FC||0||11|
|Phillips, Kalvin||Leeds United||0||10|
|Hojbjerg, Pierre||Tottenham Hotspur FC||0||9|
|Milivojevic, Luka||Crystal Palace FC||1||8|
|Lundstram, John||Sheffield United FC||1||8|
|Luiz, Douglas||Aston Villa FC||0||8|
|Holgate, Mason||Everton FC||0||9|
|Bissouma, Yves||Brighton & Hove Albion FC||1||8|
|Soucek, Tomas||West Ham United FC||1||7|
|Shaw, Luke||Manchester United FC||0||8|
|Xhaka, Granit||Arsenal FC||1||7|
|Bellerin, Hector||Arsenal FC||0||8|
|Andersen, Joachim||Fulham FC||1||7|
|Egan, John||Sheffield United FC||1||7|
|Hayden, Isaac||Newcastle United FC||0||8|
|Dallas, Stuart||Leeds United||0||7|
|McGoldrick, David||Sheffield United FC||0||7|
|Reid, Bobby||Fulham FC||0||7|
|Kane, Harry||Tottenham Hotspur FC||14|
|Fernandes, Bruno||Manchester United FC||12|
|De Bruyne, Kevin||Manchester City FC||11|
|Son, Heung Min||Tottenham Hotspur FC||10|
|Grealish, Jack||Aston Villa FC||10|
|Rashford, Marcus||Manchester United FC||9|
|Vardy, Jamie||Leicester City FC||8|
|Mane, Sadio||Liverpool FC||8|
|Harrison, Jack||Leeds United||8|
|Werner, Timo||Chelsea FC||8|
|Gross, Pascal||Brighton & Hove Albion FC||8|
|Cresswell, Aaron||West Ham United FC||8|
|Pereira, Matheus||West Bromwich Albion||7|
|Sterling, Raheem||Manchester City FC||7|
|Firmino, Roberto||Liverpool FC||7|
|Ward-Prowse, James||Southampton FC||7|
|Eze, Eberechi||Crystal Palace FC||7|
|Alexander-Arnold, Trent||Liverpool FC||7|
|Robertson, Andrew||Liverpool FC||7|