An England side that is very good at efficiently winning awkward qualifiers without playing particularly well has shocked everyone by efficiently winning an awkward qualifier without playing particularly well.
Harry Kane got a goal and an assist, just to add to the bizarro world feel as England ran out 2-0 winners in Tirana.
Statistically almost six times as involved as he was against San Marino, with a whopping 29 touches. Still not exactly busy, and his major contribution was to clatter into Harry Maguire when dealing with a late cross. Now has six England caps and is yet to concede a goal. Can’t say fairer than that, really.
Perfectly fine on his return to right-back duty, but if England are moving away from a back three he could selfishly have done with something more to catch the eye given the intense competition for places at right-back. Getting himself booked for a clumsy foul after giving the ball away attempting a trick was sub-optimal.
Both full-back positions are set up for intriguing battles now. Ben Chilwell was excellent the other night, Only San Marino caveats notwithstanding, and the in-form Shaw did his bit here with a delightful cross for Harry Kane to head home the opener. Had been slightly sloppy in possession before that moment, but the assist seemed to settle him. Good to have him back. Talking of which…
His return to form and favour and confidence at Manchester City really is the most significant news for England from the last six months.
Just a very Harry Maguire performance. Him and Stones together feels right. Biggest problem of the night came in trying and failing to avoid Nick Pope.
He’s really very good in these games. England winning without particularly playing well is increasingly likely to feature a statistical freakshow of a performance from Rice that you’d be forgiven for not really noticing because what he’s doing doesn’t always catch the eye. No player touched the ball more than Rice (126), no starter was more careful with it (97.3% pass accuracy), with two tackles, five interceptions, three clearances and a blocked shot for good measure.
A more necessary and equally effective screen in front of the back four here as he was against San Marino the other night.
Mount’s usual line in quietly efficient England displays gave way to something altogether more maverick, featuring a dramatic f***-up that should really have led to an Albania goal and a far harder night, and then an absolutely gorgeous finish for a second goal that made the last half-hour nice and relaxing like. Let’s focus mainly on the goal. It really was very good and came at a time when England were looking both utterly dominant yet notably laboured. It was welcome and necessary. There was also a comically bad free-kick just after the goal. Again, we’ll not draw attention to it. Not any more than we already have, anyway.
Better second half but a key part of the general malaise that gripped England for much of the first. We are probably still guilty of wanting and expecting too much of him.
Definitely seemed to be trying too hard against San Marino and some way short of his best again here. Pundits in agreement that his place as a certain starter for England should be secure through the summer, which is an understandable stance but one that ignores the realities. He’s not a certain first-choice starter at City, and does look a touch short of confidence. It’s not a major worry, but we’d love to see something against Poland to quell the nagging feeling gnawing away at the back of our heads.
ITV pundits were in full agreement that we saw too much of the “Tottenham Kane”. You can see where they’re coming from: it can be frustrating – especially against opposition such as this – to see one of the world’s very best strikers dropping so deep to pick up the ball. The problem – to use that word quite incorrectly – is that Kane is also one of the very best creators around. The “Tottenham Kane” leads the Premier League assist chart and still nobody has scored more goals. England’s problem – in the first half in particular – was less the presence of a “Tottenham Kane” than the absence of a “Tottenham Son”. When Kane drops, one of the three behind needs to get beyond him. That didn’t happen enough here, certainly in the first half. Mount did do it splendidly for the second goal. And Kane still got himself in plenty of goalscoring positions; the more valid criticism might really be that he only scored one of them, albeit that opening goal ended a weirdly lengthy international drought. A goal, an assist, hit the woodwork and a yellow card. Full house.
JAMES WARD-PROWSE (on for Phillips, 70)
Looks a good fit for international football and set-piece prowess (Ward-Prowess? No? Fair enough) very important. More progressive than Phillips, which might be what matters for the majority of these qualifying games.
JESSE LINGARD (on for Foden, 81)
Didn’t have 10 shots this time, but it’s an undeniably lovely thing to see him back playing for England. The returns to form of Stones and Shaw may be more significant for England, but Lingard’s is particularly good for the soul.