Had little chance with the penalty, and it was the same story with Luciano Narsingh’s winner. Forster will emerge from Tuesday’s friendly defeat against the Netherlands disappointed, but it was through no fault of his own. The Southampton keeper made a number of impressive saves as his defence became more porous, and was unfortunate to concede twice. One Jack Butland’s misery is another man’s fortune, and Forster showed that he is a more than adequate back-up for Joe Hart.
Where Nathaniel Clyne, his direct opposition for England’s right-back spot, was part of a defence which conceded twice on Saturday, Walker failed to grasp the opportunity by doing the same. The Tottenham defender was hardly at fault for either goal, but his penchant for breaking forward left his side exposed at the back on more than one occasion. As tends to be the case however, the 25-year-old was able to rely on his pace to recover.
In terms of providing an attacking outlet, Walker arguably has the edge over Clyne. His assist for Jamie Vardy’s goal was simple, but it was precipitated by a trademark marauding run. Hodgson has difficult decisions to make in midfield and attack, but his first-choice right-back is far from certain.
A message to Louis van Gaal: Please look after Mike Smalling. Thanks, England fans.
The Manchester United centre-half has struggled for his club as of late, but Smalling is the one constant in the England defence for a reason. And that reason is because his competition comprises of John Stones, Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka. The 26-year-old is not the most orthodox of defenders, but he provides a consistency which no other defender can in an England shirt. One tackle, two interceptions and five clearances on another fine Wembley night for Smalling, although he will be as frustrated as anyone at the Netherlands’ two goals.
John Stones is a defender, so let’s take the unprecedented step of judging him first and foremost on his defending, shall we?
‘The criticism of Stones has been excessive and has tended to focus on his mistakes rather than the gifts he has,’ wrote Jason Burt on Tuesday. The criticism facing the Everton defender may be excessive, but it pales in comparison to the overwhelming praise he receives for achieving the holy grail of ‘playing the ball out from the back’. The central defender made an incisive – but hardly uncommon – pass in the build-up to England’s opener, and cries of ‘the next Rio Ferdinand’ and ‘Bobby Moore’s successor’ were immediate.
Great goal but all made possible by Stones' pass that took half the Dutch team out of the game. No other defender would have done that.
— michael owen (@themichaelowen) March 29, 2016
They were drowned out after the customary mistake. The 21-year-old’s slip was not due to a lack of luck, it was because of his casual attitude on the ball in defence. That the Netherlands did not score directly from that error but from a penalty conceded by Danny Rose ensured that the ‘excessive’ criticism was conspicuous by its absence. Stones’ ball-playing is an admirable trait, but his main objective is to prevent the opposition from scoring. He fails in that regard far too often, and does not deserve to be in contention to start in France. He may be a brilliant player in the future, but in the present he needs more time to learn and develop.
An uncharacteristically unreliable performance. His tackle on Joel Veltman in the penalty area just five minutes in was ill-advised and the Tottenham left-back was fortunate not to concede a spot-kick. Justice was done in the second half, with Rose harshly penalised for handball. The 25-year-old was troubled on more than one occasion by the pace of Quincy Promes down the left, and his productivity going forward in the first half hour was incredibly frustrating. He improved as the first half drew to a close, but this will have done little to convince Roy Hodgson that the vacant spot at left-back should be his. Poor Aaron Cresswell.
Tidy. Assured. Simple. Given the role Drinkwater was asked to play on his England debut, it was difficult for the Leicester midfielder to truly stake a claim for a squad place, with little over a month remaining until Hodgson’s official announcement of his chosen 23. But the Leicester midfielder did well, attempting more passes than any other player (95), with only two England starters boasting a better pass success rate (89.5%). ITV named him their man of the match, which seemed an award based more on sentiment than a true reflection of his performance. Insert something about Mark Noble here.
The John Stones of the midfield, Barkley was once again excellent when acting on instinct, but lacking when it came to decision-making. The Everton midfielder completed more dribbles than any other player on the pitch (five), and provided a number of bright moments at the tip of the England diamond. Two shots, two key passes, and a performance which will keep him in Hodgson’s mind. But the incredible progress of Dele Alli exemplifies the frustration surrounding the 22-year-old’s own development. The Tottenham teenager is already a much more rounded player.
How is it not compulsory for a footballer to retire if they are incapable of taking a corner properly? James Milner could not call upon his 58 England caps or 14-year career as a professional when he took an inswinging corner which immediately crossed the touchline in the first half. After the excitement of England’s comeback victory over Germany, the defeat to the Netherlands was epitomised by the fact that Milner was captain for the first time. Unfortunately, Roy will not forget his tin opener when he packs for France.
Does anyone split opinion quite like Adam Lallana? The Liverpool midfielder was either ‘anonymous’ or ‘excellent’; should definitely be in the starting XI at the European Championship or should not even make the 23-man squad; was ineffective or the man of the match. Lallana, much like each of his teammates, struggled with the diamond formation in the first half, but a trademark turn and intelligent through ball helped create England’s opener. Tireless, skilful and willing. Place me firmly in the ‘impressed’ camp.
His first appearance in an England shirt since late 2014, and while Daniel Sturridge did not quite grasp the opportunity with both hands, he tentatively caressed it with one. That the striker’s best individual moment came from actively not touching the ball weirdly encapsulated his game. His well-executed dummy precipitated his strike partner’s goal. As with Liverpool, Sturridge has the unteachable talent of improving players around him with his delicate, one-touch build-up play. The problem is that Harry Kane has almost mastered the same art.
What a story. Four years ago, Jamie Vardy was a 70-year-old man with no arms and no legs. Now look at him. A second England goal in as many games, this rather more simple than his strike against Germany, but equally showcasing the Leicester’s striker’s strength. The 29-year-old’s positioning is an underrated attribute. His first goal as a starter will both boost his confidence and add to the clamour for him to be named in the XI to face Russia on June 11. There is no other player like him on the international scene; he must be a ruddy nuisance to play against.
Nathaniel Clyne (on for Rose, 58)
If anything, Clyne will have added weight to his argument simply by being capable of filling in at left-back. But will he start on the right?
Theo Walcott (on for Sturridge, 58)
Walcott played like a man with a point to prove as a second-half substitute; unfortunately for him, it’s a point no-one is willing to listen to. The Arsenal striker failed to use his pace to stretch a flagging Dutch defence, and with Harry Kane, Sturridge, Jamie Vardy and Wayne Rooney firmly in front of him in the pecking order, it’s difficult to see where Walcott fits in.
Harry Kane (on for Lallana, 70)
In a short 20-minute cameo Kane was still a nuisance. The Tottenham forward creates space and facilitates the play like no other. His metatarsal fracture next week will be devastating.
Phil Jagielka (on for Smalling, 70)
Fouled? Possibly. Out-strengthened? Definitely. Not the stand-in captain’s finest moment.
Don’t worry folks, the ladder will be with you tomorrow.