16 Conclusions on England 3-0 Senegal: Bellingham, Foden, Southgate, Pickford… Mbappe

Date published: Monday 5th December 2022 11:40 - Matthew Stead

Jude Bellingham celebrates

Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden are phenomenal. Gareth Southgate is a tournament specialist. But England were not perfect and Kylian Mbappe won’t be worried.

Do indulge in some player ratings whenever you’re ready.

 

1) England have never scored more goals at a major tournament than the 12 they have managed so far in Qatar. The only other time they have scored as many times at a World Cup or European Championships was at Russia 2018; Euro 2020 is level with the 1966 World Cup in third with 11 goals.

England have never had as many different scorers at one major tournament (8). They had never been the best-performing team in a World Cup group stage. They have equalled their biggest ever World Cup knockout stage win. They have equalled their record tally of victories against countries from different confederations in a single tournament. England have never had a manager with more victories at major tournaments, nor wins in knockout games.

England fans, at the very least of this generation and a couple prior, have never had it so good. Those calls for Southgate to leave mid-tournament or be forcibly removed because of a drab, functional draw with the United States seem even more ludicrous in hindsight than they did at the time. This is an optimised tournament team under the guidance of an ideal tournament manager. There is no-one who could have done a better job up to this point and it is difficult to envisage a coach who could pick up from here and improve things instantly. Thank you, Daily Telegraph.

 

2) His team selection was once more condemned before the inevitable vindication. It might ordinarily be fair to question a manager whose solitary change from the previous game involves rotating – or DROPPING, as one outlet had it – a player who scored two goals in a 3-0 win. But Southgate has perfected the art of squad tournament management and has earned enough faith for every England line-up not to be scrutinised within seconds of it being announced.

Having said that, the France quarter-final fume will be fun.

There has been an unfathomable rise in the number of suggestions that Harry Kane should be benched; he played, scored and was vital in the creation of another goal. Jordan Henderson retained his place and was excellent. Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka were picked from what Southgate himself described as “an embarrassment of riches” in forward positions – the Raheem Sterling call was taken out of the manager’s hands – and both rose to the occasion.

From the trust in Harry Maguire, the persistence in playing four at the back and the use of the oft-discussed ‘finishers’ as substitutes in a squad that has given every fit and available member minutes aside from two back-up keepers and two players called Conor, Southgate has made difficult decisions – often in the face of undue and sometimes personal attacks – but almost always the right ones.

 

3) Even on those occasions Southgate has faltered at this tournament, the England manager has turned it into a positive. The speed with which he acknowledged and corrected a potential error in leaving Foden out of the second group game is entirely out of character with his perception as someone who places rigid, unbreakable faith in his favourites.

And again, although the lamentable Sterling situation was out of Southgate’s control, it is unlikely the Manchester City forward would have featured against Senegal. He has now missed almost as many minutes of this tournament (221) than he did at Euro 2020 and the 2018 World Cup combined (222).

Having a 26-man squad has helped but Southgate has lost one player he supposedly could not do without, while another has been forced to leave the camp and at least one more has been absent through injury. Every potential bump in the road has been handled impeccably.

 

4) Southgate referenced the “direct” nature of Senegal’s approach before the game and they were described in all quarters as “athletic” so often that you started to suspect they would be available on an unmissable £1 a month subscription deal for a limited time only.

But England were entirely incapable of preventing or avoiding a threat they had identified and presumably spent a great deal of time preparing for. They were curiously wasteful and careless in possession and all three of Senegal’s best first-half openings could be traced back to England mistakes on the ball.

Boulaye Dia was almost put through after Foden’s pass was intercepted. Dia and Ismaila Sarr had efforts seconds after cutting out Maguire’s attempted ball through the lines. Dia forced an excellent save from Jordan Pickford from Saka’s sloppiness in possession.

John Stones and Declan Rice were also guilty of giving the ball away as England noticeably struggled against an aggressive press. That previously imperious partnership between Stones and Maguire looked remarkably less sturdy without protection from midfield and on the back foot against fast forwards. But it’s not like France have any of them so they should be fine.

 

5) The most egregious of those mistakes on the ball seemed at first sight to be the Maguire one. England had only just regained possession after a sustained period of Senegal pressure, only for the Manchester United centre-half to hammer a first-time pass straight into the feet of Krepin Diatta. His cross found Dia but Stones blocked – leading to forlorn complaints of handball – before Sarr fired over as Pickford advanced.

It will be further ammunition for Maguire’s critics but the reward if the pass had been accurate justified the risk; Jude Bellingham was free on the left and would have been in a two-versus-two attack alongside Kane against Kalidou Koulibaly and Abdou Diallo, who themselves wilted against quick and direct attacks all evening.

That does not absolve Maguire of blame for his poor execution of the pass – and the slow, ineffective reaction after it backfired – but it did rather neatly sum up the difficulty of a role he tends to play excellently, and why Southgate trusts him to pull it off more often than not.

 

6) It should also be noted that Maguire and Stones, awful as they were for a solid quarter of an hour or so on the ball in the first half, were given precious few passing options by a static midfield. Senegal closed off all lanes to Rice and England were made to look painfully bereft of ideas as a result.

Kyle Walker did not help. He offered nothing in possession and was robbed by Sarr to launch a Senegal counter at one point, with the referee strangely deciding against booking the right-back after he brought the Watford forward down. It was particularly worrying considering all the recent talk of using him to combat Kylian Mbappe. Kieran Trippier could be worth a recall for match sharpness and fitness alone.

Their tempo was dreadful and it was only when England started to change things up, bypassing the midfield more often with long balls while injecting some urgency into their play, that the momentum swung back.

 

7) The brilliance of Bellingham helped England emerge from a storm they had barely weathered. It was his bursting run from midfield which Kane, dropping deep to phenomenal effect, found to unlock a Senegal defence that may have been inadvertently lulled into a false sense of security.

Bellingham’s cut-back to find the lurking Henderson was excellent but it was the second time the Borussia Dortmund midfielder had advanced into that left-wing space to create an England opening. His cross in the ninth minute was nudged to unconvincing safety by Edouard Mendy as England started well before fading.

Bellingham’s ability to not only recognise those vacant areas to attack, but to prove so decisive when he does so, is special and invaluable, particularly in a game like this.

 

8) Henderson’s supporting run and finish was brilliant. He earned the standing ovation provided upon his late substitution with a performance significantly improved from his showing against Wales. That man knows his way around a knockout game.

Kane’s influence on the opening goal also added yet more evidence to the already overwhelming stack which suggests he is probably right to keep dropping deep to pull the strings.

But perhaps the key was Foden’s deft backheel to the Tottenham striker. Luke Shaw played a short ball to the 22-year-old, who was under immense pressure on the touchline and facing his own goal. But that clever flick felt like the first time an England player didn’t take a touch before deciding what to do. It disrupted Senegal’s shape, rhythm and press and sparked a more instinctive passage of play from England – which is always when they are at their best.

England vs Senegal

 

9) The tracking from Pathe Ciss was Pathe Tic. He stuttered a couple of times, seemingly and bizarrely uncertain as to whether he should follow the run of Bellingham, before slowing down into a jog as he realised it was far too late and the horse had already bolted.

Ciss was again susceptible for the second goal, trying to control a bouncing ball with his chest but having his pocket picked by Bellingham once again. The Rayo Vallecano midfielder was one of three players Senegal substituted at half-time and it was not a moment too soon.

 

10) Bellingham’s work for Kane’s goal was remarkable. He snapped into Ciss to steal the ball away, at which point England had the disadvantage in a three-on-five counter-attacking situation. Bellingham advanced, drawing Youssouf Sabaly out before gliding past him and taking out two other players either side, then dragged Diallo out of position to leave Foden and Kane with a two-on-one scenario in their favour.

A lesser player would have rushed the first pass or run into traffic, acting too quickly or too late, bringing a promising break to an instant end. But Bellingham pinpointed the most effective route and guided England there masterfully.

Foden and Kane still had work to do; the former’s first-time pass eliminated Koulibaly from the equation and the latter finished clinically. But Bellingham was destroyer, dribbler and architect at 19 in a World Cup knockout game, a composed, two-footed rampaging ballerina, thinking and acting quicker than everyone else on the pitch. He is already one of the best midfielders on the planet and will only improve.

 

11) But it should be said that Bellingham’s best moment was quite clearly when the cameras cut to him telling the referee to f**k off for giving a vaguely contentious throw-in to Senegal close to the halfway line after about 10 minutes. It didn’t quite match the touchline profanities which the BBC picked up after an unsuccessful press in the game against Wales, but it epitomised his elite mentality – or his Stourbridge vocabulary.

 

12) Senegal’s tactics had been exemplary and it should not be overlooked that England really did struggle at times. But their individual quality is such that even winning a battle of systems might not necessarily be enough to beat them. The tie was very much alive after about half an hour but done by half-time.

England have had sensational talent and ability in their squads before but these players feel different – uninhibited and confident.

The game might have been even more difficult had Sadio Mane, Idrissa Gueye and Cheikhou Kouyate been available for Senegal, yet there is plenty to be said for England’s propensity to suffer before properly stretching their legs.

 

13) England’s third goal continued the theme of supreme technique and decision-making. Neat interplay down the left resulted in Foden breaking clear and squaring for Saka to finish intelligently.

Senegal’s defending was atrocious but that move underlined how Foden is being deployed correctly despite recent claims he should be moved more central. No other winger in the squad can do what he does: riding the challenge of Sabaly effortlessly before delivering a glorious final ball into Saka.

The temptation with technically exceptional England players seems to be to move them into an area where they can see more of the ball. Trent Alexander-Arnold is the primary case in point, even with full-backs more dominant and important in possession than ever. But both he and Foden are already precisely where they are at their most effective – and one of them is finally translating their club form to the international scene.

 

14) It is obviously not true but it feels as though Luke Shaw has been involved in every goal England have scored at the last two major tournaments. He helped knit the third goal together with crisp, sharp passing and has become such a reliable outlet at both ends down the left.

Plenty will scoff at the statistic but only Lionel Messi (34) and Aurelien Tchouameni (25) had played more progressive passes at the World Cup than Shaw (22) heading into this game. In a different world it would be Trippier or Ben Chilwell on that side of England’s defence but credit to Jose Mourinho’s brain for reviving his career to such a degree that he has become one of his club and country’s most important players.

 

15) None of this would have been possible without that Pickford save from Dia at 0-0. It was a relatively unorthodox stop and there should be no speculation as to just why his left wrist is so strong, but that was an absolutely imperative moment and a probable turning point. England might well have collapsed had they conceded then, such was the pressure Senegal were exerting.

It also seems as though he got a crucial touch on the Sarr shot which came from Maguire’s first-half mistake, despite a goal kick being awarded. Eight clean sheets in his last 11 major tournament games for England is a preposterous record and it is worth remembering The Clamour was once for Nick Pope to start ahead of him. Not a chance: Pickford is probably level with Kane in the Southgate trust stakes.

 

16) That was only England’s fourth World Cup win on ITV, and their second knockout stage win in normal time televised by the broadcaster after the 3-0 victory over Denmark in the last 16 in 2002. There is not a single curse Southgate cannot break. He really is The One.

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