England’s World Cup opener: Rating the players

Date published: Monday 18th June 2018 8:39

JORDAN PICKFORD: We very much enjoyed his flying practise dive long before Tunisia actually looked remotely dangerous. Barely touched the ball before he was picking it out of the net after a pretty much perfect penalty. Had a rush of blood early in the second half that reminded us that he about 12.

 

KIERAN TRIPPER: There was awful early ball which suggested nervousness, but any worries quickly disappeared as his delivery – from open play and set-pieces – was consistently excellent. Time and again he delivered meals on wheels only to see his colleagues struggle to finish their dinner. The ball behind for Jesse Lingard’s one-on-one was exquisite. Let’s be clear, finding a teammate with seven of ten crosses is obscene; the seventh brought the late winner. He was England’s best player bar none.

 

KYLE WALKER:  There were moments of brilliant play – a wonderful ball through the gap for Trippier had his purring – but he still looks like a man playing out of position too often for comfort. He got his body positioning all wrong when he was trying to clear the ball after a Harry Maguire mistake and then he got his body positioning disastrously wrong for the penalty. Yes, it was harsh, but why was he facing his own goal? A real centre-half probably does not make that mistake. It is a work in progress.

 

JOHN STONES: Ah, we like this John Stones. He misplaced just one pass all night as he was Mr Serene; the leader in that defence at the age of just 24. His header for the Harry Kane opener was also an absolute belter; we just wish the gilt-edged chance in a first-half goalmouth scramble had fallen to anybody but him.

 

HARRY MAGUIRE: Look up ‘mixed bag’ in the football dictionary and you will see a picture of Harry Maguire, simultaneously looking both brilliant and an absolute liability. Causes massive problems for the opposition in their penalty area – his header made the winner – but causes massive problems for his own team with some infuriating dawdling on the ball. He contrived to hand Tunisia a couple of chances they really did not deserve.

 

ASHLEY YOUNG: In the team for his delivery and he, well, you know what he did. It was his corner that made the opening goal and it really should have been his sumptuous ball that made a second for Jesse Lingard. If reports are to be believed, he will be replaced by Danny Rose on Sunday; if so, he has not let his country down. Oh, except when he tried a dinked free-kick late in the game; then he let us all down.

 

JORDAN HENDERSON: Absolutely the right decision to choose him ahead of Eric Dier as his forward passing really was excellent. His style and his form has been transformed by Jurgen Klopp this season; he looks for runners and generally finds them. Working with the best front three in the Premier League has immeasurably improved his game. The early ball that found Dele Alli and eventually created a chance for Lingard (there is a theme developing) was ‘stand up and applaud’ good. Six of seven long balls found a teammate; are you watching Wayne Rooney?

 

JESSE LINGARD: On the one hand, you want to applaud his movement and the way he gets himself into goalscoring positions. On the other, you want to scream ‘how the hell did you miss that?’. He got an awful connection on the early chance created by Alli’s tenacity, but the worst was still to come. Having been found in acres of space by Young, he got all confused, could not decide whether to use his foot, his head or his arse, and basically did none of the above. The toe-poke onto the post was unlucky but hitting the target with only one of four shots is a wretched record at this level.

 

DELE ALLI: Quite why he stayed on the pitch for 79 minutes when he looked uncomfortable for more than half that time is unclear. How we would have dearly loved to see Ruben Loftus-Cheek sooner. Was heavily involved in England’s early excellent play and he created an excellent chance for Lingard with his persistence. There were a couple of the careless flicks we have sadly come to expect, but there was no real harm done.

 

RAHEEM STERLING: A frustrating night. Some of his movement was excellent but too often he just looked awkward with ball at feet, running into trouble too many times to count. Oddly, the further he dropped in search of the ball, the better he looked. He was dispossessed five times and five times we exclaimed out loud. We desperately wanted him to be good, but nobody could argue against his early-ish substitution.

 

HARRY KANE: One of those games where his general play was pretty poor – his hold-up play was at times woeful – but he scored twice because he is an irrepressible world-class finisher. We do not mind those games at all. Twice pounced on the ‘bits and pieces’ like a peak Kevin Nolan. England could be the grateful beneficiaries of his single-minded quest for the Golden Boot.

 

SUBS

MARCUS RASHFORD (on for Sterling, 68): Southgate’s go-to sub delivered exactly what he was sent on to provide – energy and running that forced corners and fouls – but only he will know why he did not pull the trigger when presented with a pretty much golden opportunity.

 

RUBEN LOFTUS-CHEEK (on for Alli, 80): A genuine game-changer. Suddenly, England had power as well as pace. RLC in motion is quite the sight to behold. We would be tempted to start him against Panama but we suspect that Southgate sees him as his change-up option. We are just really glad to have options.

 

Sarah Winterburn


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