Spain 2-3 England: Rating the players

Date published: Monday 15th October 2018 9:22 - Matthew Stead

Forget Banks from Pele; Pickford from Alonso is where it’s at now. That unintentional headed save was the glorious pinnacle of a display where his actual goalkeeping left plenty to be desired. Alisson will have been stifling his laughter as his Merseyside rival almost fluffed his lines spectacularly with the ball at his feet and time on his hands in the second half. There was another moment where he punched a cross directly into the path of a Spain striker, yet emerged unscathed and unmoved.

While any of his rivals might have defended their goal much better, Pickford proved his worth as one of England’s biggest attacking weapons. It was his phenomenal pass that completely bypassed the Spain press for the first goal, England scoring within seven seconds of his ball into Kane. And the trick was repeated when England doubled their lead within 13 seconds of his pass to the same player. England completed 26 accurate long balls, and he accounted for 13. The goalkeeping fundamentalists will have been tearing their hair out, but the rest of us can appreciate what he offered elsewhere.


The designated driver of this England side at 28 – with no other player over the age of 25 – was no more than solid. His natural attacking instincts were inevitably neutered by the circumstances, meaning his defensive play was placed under the microscope. He fared the initial inspection well with an excellent early covering block at left-back, but followed that up with an air shot that let Marco Asensio in for a shot on target moments later. It was an underwhelming performance in perhaps the only position that an England player can ill afford one.


It turns out that he can play a full 90 minutes without rampaging out of his own penalty area and into the opposition half. As the most senior centre-half, Maguire showed a leadership and awareness rarely before seen, particularly for England. No teammate completed more tackles – and the one he received a yellow card for was unjust – while he made more than twice as many clearances as any other player. As a pure central defender, he is only getting better with experience.


That he had a relatively shaky start made the subsequent commanding nature of his overall performance all the more impressive. His excellent block on Asensio early in the second half laid down a marker for the rest of his teammates to follow: that bodies would be thrown on, over and in front of the line to protect a hard-earned and deserved lead. His pace, strength, positional play and ability on the ball makes him a nightmare for strikers, as he has no real deficiencies to exploit. At 21, and in his first full season as a senior centre-half at elite level, it is all rather exciting.


He pushed a little too high up at times, particularly when the Spanish inquisition took hold in the second half. But that a) may be a directive from the manager; and b) is perhaps too harsh a critique of a player making his bow on the world stage. That he looked so comfortable in these surroundings is testament to his mentality as much as his natural talent, and a player who might have been identified as a potential weak point was anything but. Not once was he beaten one-on-one, and he might well have established himself as second choice to Luke Shaw. A reminder that Ashley Young was England’s starting left-back at the World Cup three months ago.


A lovely reducer on Sergio Ramos in the Spain penalty area was as unfortunate to be punished with a yellow card as it was completely and hilariously needless. But it did set the tone for a spell of assured dominance after a tough start. Dier’s involvement in the first two goals was minimal but it was his pass to Barkley that facilitated the third, as simple as it was. Most impressive is that all four of his long balls found their target, as well as his only through ball. Indeed, he had the highest pass accuracy of any England starter, on what was surely his best international performance to date.


Had absolutely no right to look like the most Spanish midfielder on the pitch – not against this opposition, not in these surroundings, and not on what was only his second England appearance. Even through early nerves for his teammates he exuded calm and composure, keeping both hands on the wheel and playing at his own pace under immense pressure. One situation saw him twist and turn to thwart a three-pronged Spain press and keep possession, which Barkley promptly lost with the next touch. Let this be the end of Dier and Jordan Henderson forming two-thirds of a midfield trio.


That is much more like it, young man. Remnants of the old Ross Barkley are still present, such as when he made a fine tackle on the edge of the England penalty area to help launch a four-on-three attack, one which only broke down due to his poor decision making. But this much-improved version of Barkley learns from his mistakes, and his dinked pass into the path of Kane for Sterling’s second was sumptuous. The comparisons with Paul Gascoigne have never been further from the mark, but only because his game is now based more on tactical discipline than natural brilliance. And he really is all the more better and useful for it.


“We’ve got to keep getting him in the right positions. We’ve got to create chances for him and he’s got to keep getting in the right areas. But I think it is going to be a confidence thing that when the goal comes he will go on a scoring run.”

Gareth Southgate, soothsayer extraordinaire. No sooner had Spain realised that they missed the first London bus had they found themselves aimlessly chasing the second, tripping over their own shoelaces as the passengers on board roared with disbelieving laughter. Raheem Sterling waited 1,102 days for his third England goal, and 22 minutes for his fourth.

As the tip of the England spear, Sterling was incisive and razor sharp, slicing through a Spanish defence containing European champions, English champions and a Wolves right-back. The hosts were in a near-constant state of panic with the 23-year-old lurking on the last shoulder, and Southgate deserves great credit for his slight switch in position. It got the best out of an attack that was previously misfiring.

Sterling was almost always the scapegoat for that, but no longer. He can sleep safe in the knowledge that he will be able to buy his mum a house, drive whatever car he wants and eat whatever he fancies for lunch tomorrow without fear of persecution. He is our boy, and we love him ever so dearly.


His goal drought for club and country extends to 308 minutes, and he has not scored in seven England games – his worst ever run at international level. Yet that is to completely misrepresent a quite wonderful and selfless first-half performance. “He might surprise a lot of people, but not me,” said an uncharacteristically confident Sergio Ramos before this game, but even the Spain captain was left in awe as Kane showcased a completely different side to his game. He dropped deep to help create the first, provided some remarkable hold-up play as the furthest man forward to lay on the second, and manufactured the third with an excellent run and pass. England’s Hollywood lead might have found his true calling as a wonderful supporting actor.


If Friday was Marcus Rashford as his frustrating, piss-poor worst, this was the exact opposite. He maximised his limited time on the ball, ending the game with the fewest touches of any outfield starter, but also a goal and an assist. Both were expertly taken, justifying his selection after his wastefulness proved costly against Croatia. This was two strides forward after one step back.



KYLE WALKER (on for Barkley, 76)
I’d really rather he competed with Trippier at right-back than be used as an auxiliary centre-half when defending under immense pressure. He does not really have the requisite understanding of the position to be thrown in at the deepest of ends against this kind of attack. That was offset slightly in the World Cup as he could play himself into the game from the start, but he cannot be expected to be straight up to speed in an unfamiliar position in a fast-paced game as a late substitute.


TRENT ALEXANDER-ARNOLD (on for Trippier, 85)
Should have come on sooner.


NATHANIEL CHALOBAH (on for Winks, 90)
Didn’t put a foot wrong, and even crowbarred in an acrobatic clearance on his debut. Lovely to see.

Matt Stead


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