England 1-0 Portugal: Rating the players

Date published: Thursday 2nd June 2016 10:43

Joe Hart
Took an absolutely stunning goal kick on more than one occasion. Looked really tall throughout – although not as tall as Fraser Forster. Should probably still start in France, mind.


Kyle Walker
On an evening during which many a teammate tried their utmost to play their way out of the starting line-up for this summer’s European Championship, Walker was the outlier: the Tottenham right-back actually impressed. He pressed well. He attacked with verve. He tracked back diligently. He subdued Portugal’s attack down the left-hand side.

The latter two of those four offer the biggest positive for a player whose defensive deficiencies have him behind Nathaniel Clyne in the pecking order for many. No England player made more tackles (two), interceptions (three) or clearances (ten), and yet he also posed the biggest threat going forward. The worthy man of the match enjoyed more touches (86) than any other player. He could have done no more to stake his claim.


Gary Cahill
As overwhelming as the clamour will be to start John Stones in France, it is likely to be Cahill who partners Chris Smalling in defence. Based on Thursday’s game, it is understandable. The 30-year-old was solid without being sophisticated, calm without being cultured, and efficient without being exciting. His decision-making remains questionable, with his reward for sweeping ineffectual striker Nani’s legs from underneath him being a first-half booking. Only Bruno Alves’ stupidity spared him the tag of ‘needlessly reckless centre-half of the match’. An excellent 57th-minute challenge on Andre Gomes after his teammates dallied in dispossessing the attacker displayed a necessary no-nonsense attitude.


Chris Smalling
Largely untested defensively, and yet still looked indecisive and lackadaisical at times. On two occasions his mistakes went unpunished – when pulling Rafa Silva’s shirt on 15 minutes, and when Cahill spared his blushes following that half-hearted attempt to tackle Gomes before the hour.

Twenty-five caps into his international career however, and the Manchester United defender has his first goal. Raheem Sterling’s cross was impeccable, but Smalling’s slight flick was crucial. The 26-year-old’s height and imposing figure could be vital in both defence and attack this summer.


Danny Rose
Not quite as impressive as his club teammate on the other flank, but Rose was still one of few to enjoy a positive game. He displayed great awareness to prevent Joao Mario turning home Eliseu’s cross on 20 minutes. Portugal posed little threat otherwise however; this was a game in which the 26-year-old would always struggle to truly shine. Ryan Bertrand is still the safer, more reliable option at left-back.


Eric Dier
Along with Hart, Dier was the only player for whom I had no notes. That is not a criticism of the Tottenham midfielder; he did his job quietly and effectively. The 22-year-old will face sterner tasks than shielding a defence against a side playing with ten men for around an hour. But Dier was still tidy, and exhibited a strong passing range from deep in midfield. According to Gareth Southgate, he should be the first name on the England team sheet. Goalkeeper aside, it is difficult to argue.


James Milner
After a brilliant end to the season for Liverpool, the Milner of old returned at Wembley. The most mature member of the England squad offered scant leadership, little in defence and nothing in attack. One of many players to suffer from Roy Hodgson’s chosen formation, the 30-year-old was substituted just after the hour-mark. As was the case for many however, his manager’s tactical decisions should not mask a below-par performance. He was dispossessed more times than any other player (three), and did not make a single tackle. He might just have played his way out of the starting line-up.


Dele Alli
One of the three main victims of the desire to crowbar the captain into the side. A few brilliant touches aside, Alli struggled to impose himself on the left-hand side. “He’s wasted there,” noted Danny Mills for BBC Sport. Quite.

Upon Wayne Rooney’s exit with just over ten minutes to go however, the Tottenham midfielder took up more central positions. The difference was palpable. Although the execution was found lacking, the 20-year-old constantly tried to thread balls through to the onrushing forwards. It is a shame such positivity was smothered for the majority of the game.

Aside from issues pertaining to position, Alli’s biggest test was to battle the aggravation of the Portuguese. Ricardo Carvalho, 18 years his elder, led the charge to push the midfielder’s temperament. Not punching anyone in the stomach is a huge step forwards.


Wayne Rooney
‘Left? In behind? Deep-lying midfielder? Actually, he’s not a bad striker – at least for England.’

The above is this site’s write-up on Rooney after he scored in the 2-1 friendly victory over Australia on Sunday. Four days later, he was seen playing in each of the four positions. He was seen struggling in each of the four positions.

The 30-year-old was predicted to start the game behind strikers Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy. Instead, he pushed forward into more or less a central striker role, forcing the two recognised forwards to wide positions. A reminder now that Kane and Vardy scored 49 Premier League goals between them this past season; Rooney scored eight.

Manchester United fans watching will have let out an audible and knowing groan as the game continued. After heading England’s best opportunity comfortably into Rui Patricio’s hands in the first half, Rooney embarked on his usual mission to drop deep and float 30-yard balls over to the right back. Poor Kyle Walker must have been knackered at half-time. The captain completed 57.1% of his first-half passes, which is a nigh-on unforgivable pass-success rate.

It is not even that Rooney was poor at Wembley; his inclusion forced England’s three most positive players – Alli, Kane and Vardy – into unfamiliar positions in order to accommodate him. If he wants to be a central midfielder, play him in central midfield. If he wants to be a No 10, play him as a No 10. If he wants to play out wide, play him out wide. If he wants to play as a striker, play him as a striker. Do not do all four in the same match, particularly when he is struggling in each and every position he takes up.

With the first game of a major tournament just nine days away, we still do not know where England’s captain should feature. Well, we do – the bench. Unfortunately, that is the only inapplicable option.


Jamie Vardy
Proof, if ever it were needed, that being fast and direct does not a winger make, particularly if they are your two main assets. The Leicester forward struggled more than any other player at Wembley, and grew noticeably more irritable as the game wore on.

This is no conundrum facing Hodgson. In fact, it is quite simple: if you are playing a formation with two central strikers, start Vardy. If you are not, do not. Much like club teammate Drinkwater, the 29-year-old is incredibly effective when utilised in a system which suits him. When he is not, he will struggle.

All considered, having nine touches, making five fouls and being caught offside twice is not completely down to his manager’s system. This was simply a bad game for the not-so-hot-shot.


Harry Kane
When the best moment of your first half is being kicked in the face and continuing as if nothing had happened, you know something has gone awry. When the best moment of your second half is receiving constant praise for that first-half moment, then it really has gone wrong. Much like Vardy, Kane is no winger. He is most effective as a central striker, which is awfully strange considering he is a central striker. Should he still start in France? Having scored 59 goals in his last 101 appearances for Tottenham, it is difficult to argue otherwise. More impressive performances on the international stage would not go amiss however. And please, please, please stop taking corners and free-kicks. Please. You are not Phil Jones.



Raheem Sterling (on for Vardy, 66): For a player who many feel should not have even made the squad, Sterling provided the perfect response. England laboured for so long before his introduction, and the Manchester City winger injected pace, skill and dynamism into an attack which Portugal had held at bay despite a one-man disadvantage. Despite playing just 25 minutes, only Renato Sanches (who was bloody brilliant – unlucky United fans) completed more dribbles (two), and his assist for the goal was an inch-perfect delivery. The snake could have slithered his way into the starting XI. If not, a role as super-sub awaits.

Jack Wilshere (on for Milner, 66): As many noted well before the Arsenal midfielder’s second-half introduction, this was Wilshere’s best performance of the season. England were woeful in possession throughout much of the contest, and desperately needed a player of guile and craft. Wilshere may have created just one goalscoring chance in his 25 minutes, but no teammate provided more. Start him, Roy.

Daniel Sturridge (on for Kane, 78): Benefiting from actually playing centrally, he enjoyed one more touch than Vardy, despite playing almost an hour less. As important as Wilshere’s introduction was, Sturridge offers something no other England striker can: short, crisp and clever interchanges. He can overplay it sometimes, but he is the most talented forward the national team has.

Adam Lallana (on for Rooney, 78): Of all the substitutes, Lallana was almost the game-changer with an excellent cross and well-timed subsequent burst through the defence late on. Hodgson likes him, and he is both a) tidy in possession, and b) the most willing of workers. But not a starter.

Jordan Henderson (on for Alli, 90): There are few things more Jordan Henderson-y than coming on in stoppage time with your team leading 1-0, and having one touch of the ball. Milner’s non-performance might actually elevate him to a higher placing in this squad, but again: not a starter.


Matt Stead

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