VAR has once again stolen the headlines. And for all the wrong reasons. England were denied the win tonight at Wembley after the referee reviewed a challenge on Chiesa. The Italian was falling before he was tripped, but the referee, Deniz Aytekin, thought it was a “clear and obvious” foul.
Lorenzo Insigne who had been a passenger all game stepped up to take the penalty and fired it low to the right of Butland and earned Italy a draw.
It was a stain on what had been another encouraging performance from England ahead of their preparations for the World Cup, where VAR will be in use.
England did deserve more on the balance of the game, but their game management and ability to hold onto narrow leads was called into question again tonight. Last Friday they allowed Holland to push on for a late equaliser, and they did the same again with Italy tonight. But this time their opponents found the goal. Despite the controversial circumstances, England shouldn’t have allowed Chiesa the space to run into the box.
Tonight we saw the good, the bad and the ugly of Southgate’s preferred formation. When things were going England’s way, Italy had no response to England’s pace and forward passing. But when Italy gave England a taste of their own medicine, the “play out from the back” mantra was called into question. They looked nervous and could have conceded three times within the first five minutes.
John Stones was too slow on the ball and Italy caught him out. The first mistake he made was when he tried to play offside. Immobile sprinted through on goal but Stones got back just in time to spare his blushes. Soon after it was Stones again, losing the ball in a vital area to the Italian, but Stones’ strength helped him atone for his error. Had Immobile been a bit sharper on the ball, England would have been a couple of goals down. You would have thought that the players would have mastered the formation with just a few months until the World Cup and the fact that they haven’t is a real worry going into Russia.
Italy gave England problems down the right with the runs of Zappacosta and the overlaps of Candreva. But ultimately, their hard work was undone by the lack of quality in the box. A whipped in cross from Candreva found Immobile with a free header four yards from goal, but still he found a way of heading over the crossbar. Whilst England do show signs of becoming a top team, their defence is where they are at their weakest, and against a tougher team they would have been punished and out of the game just after ten minutes.
Tarkowski who made his full England debut made a good case why he should be starting in Russia. He showed all the qualities Southgate is looking for in a ball-playing central defender and he was a threat in the box, twice finding himself with free headers on the far post from corners. It was thanks to his great vision that found Lingard free in the middle of the field. Lingard then helped the ball onto Vardy who was through on goal but a last ditch sliding challenge from De Sciglio denied him an almost certain goal.
Going forward, England look capable of beating any nation, and Sterling had a brilliant performance. Whether it was laying it off to Young on the overlap, running past defenders or his persistent attacking – Sterling was there, orchestrating all of England’s attacks.
Previously when Sterling has featured for England, the talk about him has always been about his potential. But now he is finally delivering on that and on tonight’s showing, will be a handful for any nation. His non-stop running, getting up even after being fouled showed his desire and asked big questions of the Italian defence. They didn’t know how to handle him. Just as they thought they had tackled him, he got back up and carried on.
He was dangerous early on after he shrugged off a challenge from an Italian defender and then played to Vardy. But Donnarumma saved. Sterling, desperate to find England’s first goal, kept coming. It was his blistering run that earned England a free-kick after being brought down twice in quick succession. Lingard showed his class by seizing on the chance of a quick free-kick and played the ball in towards Vardy who nearly broke the net with his thunderous finish.
The only thing missing from Sterling’s performance tonight was a goal for all of his hard work.
Ashley Young was also impressive providing accurate crosses and dangerous runs which his counterpart, Danny Rose, was incapable of doing against Holland.
But as the game went on, Italy’s influence on the game increased. Jorginho produced a lovely lofted ball over the England defence to the far post where Insigne directed the ball back towards goal, but fortunately for England nobody was there to turn it home.
England struggled to cope with Italy’s long balls but you could see why they are not going to the World Cup as they were toothless up front. But the controversial VAR granted Italy a penalty which they executed with aplomb.
Gareth Southgate will be impressed with the way his players attacked the Italians, but he will be scratching his head over how he will sort out his teams’ defensive issues. In both friendlies they were nearly caught out for being careless on the ball, they struggled to cope with long balls, and they have failed to keep their opponents quiet in the final minutes of the game.
Subs used: Rose 6, Lallana 6, Rashford 6, Cook 6, Henderson 6,
De Sciglio 6
Subs used: Chiesa 7 Belotti 6, Gagliardini 6
Xplode’s Man of the Match – Raheem Sterling