After all the experimentation, the conclusions feel confused.
1) A win but hardly the send-off that was desired
Even in victory this was an anticlimactic mish-mash. The crowd did not necessarily demand a rip-roaring send-off before the team’s departure for France but they were dismayed by the awkward nature of England’s approach. Roy Hodgson might point to promise in his tactical tweaks but it was not always easy to discern much logical pattern to his team’s approach. For long periods five of the outfield players were effectively being used out of position, if Chris Smalling’s employment as a left-sided centre-half is taken into account. “Formations don’t win you games,” Hodgson had said but surely a level of familiarity in approach may have helped nine days from their opening Euro 2016 Group B fixture.
2) Diamond formation feels like a blunt instrument
Hodgson has fiddled with his formation over these friendly fixtures and appears to have concluded Danny Welbeck’s absence rather nullifies the 4-3-3, leaving his team built around the diamond. Yet whether the combination who started this contest should be deployed is open to doubt. Wayne Rooney sat at the tip – he had never played with Jamie Vardy before – though his eagerness to break beyond Danilo split the strikers and pinned them to the flanks. Harry Kane felt wasted out there, forever a raking pass away from his club-mate Dele Alli, where their close combination play had previously felt so key. The influence of the two most prolific English forwards in the Premier League felt unnecessarily blunted. The confusion was self-inflicted.
3) Alli’s talent is in real danger of being wasted
The England manager had been asked pre-match what had disappointed him from the two previous friendlies and had offered up frustration at the sight of opponents charging through his side’s midfield. Those told to shield the backline had not provided sufficient “screening”. Athleticism and mobility are apparently the key that could potentially count against Jack Wilshere – and to that end Eric Dier did offer reassurance at the base of midfield, flanked by the energy of James Milner and Alli. The former is always industrious but the latter would surely be more effective in advanced positions, as Mauricio Pochettino concluded over the season at Tottenham. The last thing England want is Alli growing frustrated on the periphery.
4) Will these be the players to take on Russia?
The likelihood is this England lineup will provide all but a couple of those who will begin against Russia at Stade Vélodrome. Maybe Jordan Henderson, with another week of training in Chantilly under his belt, may replace Milner. In defence John Stones, so impressive in the previous friendlies, could challenge Gary Cahill depending on the state of the latter’s hip, and Raheem Sterling or Adam Lallana will feel they warrant inclusion in midfield. It does not look quite so promising for Nathaniel Clyne given Kyle Walker was arguably this team’s most eye-catching performer, offering width, pace and delivery down the flank. Certainly, if the management opts to pursue familiar combinations then Walker and Danny Rose would feel like a natural full-back pairing.
5) We’re still unclear about Portugal’s credentials
Judging what threat will be carried by Portugal in France is tricky on this evidence alone, especially with Cristiano Ronaldo still sunning himself on a yacht in Ibiza and Pepe’s snarl also absent after the Champions League final. Certainly Fernando Santos’s side lacked an obvious goal threat with Nani, playing as a centre-forward, summing up their lack of bite by shooting high into the stand early on. They can console themselves that they have one of the world’s most potent attacking players ready to return, a figure they should have no problem incorporating into their system given the world tends to revolve entirely around him. Should England meet them later in the tournament then Portugal will surely pose more of a threat than this.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010