England drew 0-0 with Italy on Saturday night in a game which we need never speak of again. But in the event you do wish to reflect more on a lost Saturday night, here are some thoughts on the individual performances from the Three Lions…
The highlight of a flawless first half was a brilliant save to deny Sandro Tonali, who presumably thought he just had to hit the target from close range but Ramsdale’s speed across the goal put him in the way to make a superb block. The Arsenal No.1 misplaced a couple of passes in the second half but a clean sheet will do his cause no harm, even if he is relying on Jordan Pickford to drop the gloves before the World Cup.
Motoring down the right, the Chelsea full-back was England’s biggest threat in the first half, his most creative contribution being a low pull-back which Jack Grealish stabbed tamely into an Italy defender. It was the same after the break, with England’s best chance of this and a few other games coming from a low curling cross which Sterling somehow skied. Funny what happens when you use players on their natural side.
Southgate trusts Trippier implicitly, but with a right-footed left-back behind a right-footed left-winger, England were too predictable on that side. There was little point Abraham making runs when the ball went wide because seemingly every time in the first half, from good crossing positions, the ball went back and then square. It obviously doesn’t help when the only natural left-back of 11 defenders in the squad is crocked – England started with 11 right-footers – but Italy also seemed to target Trippier’s side in the first half, when they got plenty of joy down their right.
A full debut for the AC Milan defender against some familiar faces. A shaky early clearance allowed Manuel Locatelli in down Italy’s right but any nerves quickly subsided as the intensity drifted towards Soccer Aid level. Impressed Southgate, which is all that matters to him.
Absolutely nothing to report from the Man Utd centre-back, which he’ll be f***ing thrilled about after the season he’s had. One more Godforsaken game and it’s all over.
Southgate said the Saints midfielder ‘used the ball well and controlled the game’, and the manager felt England improved while playing through a midfield press. The lack of inspiration ahead of him cannot be held against Ward-Prowse.
Similarly to Ward-Prowse, Rice shielded the back four and was tidy in possession, breaking lines occasionally with a pass or on the dribble. With the four ahead of him struggling to penetrate, Rice might have looked to do that more often by running in behind, but Southgate seems to like his double pivot anchored around the centre circle.
This was the Man City winger’s fourth time with the England armband, but his first touch was ropey too often in the first half. It was even worse after the break when he skied over an open goal from four yards. Very little seemed to come off for the 75-cap veteran who, like many of these players, looks like he’s counting down the days until he can disappear on holiday.
Graeme Le Saux described his ninth-minute shot against the crossbar as an ‘excellent strike’ but, actually, it was a p*ss-poor finish, under little pressure, when the far corner was gaping. Two other shots in the first half, both straight at Donnarumma, came as a result of his tendency to drift left, meaning both he and Grealish were plotting the same course. Hooked just after the hour after another display that did little to quieten those who believe Mount has dirt on the manager.
Southgate spoke after Grealish’s positive impact in Germany of the need for the £100million man to improve tactically, which seemed once more to weigh him down. There was almost nothing in the way of expression from Grealish. In the first half he wasted one opportunity by poking James’ cut-back harmlessly into a defender when he perhaps had time to take a touch or finish with his left foot rather than his right. Never shied from showing for the ball but rarely did he receive it in areas where he could hurt Italy and when he did, he was reluctant to take risks. Made four key passes but none of them spring immediately to mind.
The manager said in his pre-match interview that he was watching Abraham in the build-up and his contribution to England’s press so Southgate will have been chuffed to see the Roma striker capitalise on a poor early pass from Donnarumma, even if the finish was askew. Outside the box, he was generally neat and tidy but offered little threat closer to goal, which is a more damning indictment of the service he didn’t receive. ‘Fine’ was Southgate’s post-match assessment.
JARROD BOWEN (for Mount, 64)
Had a quarter of an hour on the right before shuffling inside when Saka took over. One opportunity to get one-on-one but ran straight into Acerbi.
KALVIN PHILLIPS (for Rice, 64)
Didn’t get injured. Result.
HARRY KANE (for Abraham, 64)
Fed up with the abject lack of creativity around him, Kane created his best and only opportunity by playing a wall-pass off an Italy defender.
BUKAYO SAKA (for Sterling, 79)
Completed 100 per cent of his two passes.
MARC GUEHI (for Tomori, 88)
Might have touched the ball, not sure.