Eyebrows were raised when the team sheet was released as Southgate had put Kyle Walker, an attacking right back, in the back three. Tougher tests against the one like Italy on Tuesday will provide the answers as to whether this was a good decision or not.
England’s build-up play was very patient and they were very well organised, reverting back to a back five when they did not have the ball. But this meant they were giving the ball away too soon after they had won it themselves.
The formation they played looked to be centred around Harry Kane up front with his strength and ability to hold up the ball. But with Rashford up front, it was hard to execute, although it did improve in the second half. Southgate will have to explore other options with Harry Kane being a doubt for the Russia World Cup because they lacked a cutting edge.
England dominated the possession stats, but that is not always a sign of success. It’s what you do with the ball that matters, not how long you have it. And having huge amounts of the ball means that you are likely to make sloppy mistakes. Pickford had a couple of shaky moments when playing out from the back which he will have to remove from his game if he wants to cement his position as England’s No. 1.
England’s long-range passing was a joy to watch with Walker, Chamberlain and Trippier all producing inch-perfect balls. The dynamic runs of Rashford and Sterling helped create those chances but when they did get in the final third, there was little presence in the box.
But you could see why this Dutch team had failed to qualify for the World Cup. If you thought England were lacking attacking options, Holland were even less threatening. They hadn’t caused England any problems. When you compare their current squad to the one that got into the 2010 World Cup final and the 2014 semi-final, it is striking how far they have fallen in such a short period of time.
Danny Rose, whose season has been dogged by injury, seemed of the pace and his lack of game time is evidence of that. His crosses were wide of the mark, and didn’t play to the fullest of his abilities, but he did make some good runs. Harry Maguire who replaced Joe Gomez early on was impressive, albeit under little pressure. Holland found his strength a stumbling block and found it hard to get in behind him. Maguire played without fear, he had the confidence to dart forward and make opportunities for England. He appeared comfortable on the ball and that is vital with the way Gareth Southgate wants to play.
The game was devoid of clear cut opportunities, but England should have had a penalty after a defence-splitting pass from Chamberlain set Rashford away. Zoet came rushing off his line and in desperation, De Ligt stuck out his leg but missed the ball completely and brought down Rashford. It was a blatant penalty and reminded us all of the importance of VAR at the World Cup, despite its faults.
England’s fortunes improved after they went more attacking in the second half. A Trippier corner found Maguire who headed towards goal and almost created a goal for England but Sterling nor Henderson could connect with the ball to put it in the back of the net.
But England finally got what they deserved. Sterling’s positive run played in Rose who crossed it into Chamberlain, but it deflected towards the edge of the area where Lingard was stood waiting. He drove the ball low to the left corner, the Dutch goalkeeper Zoet got a hand to it, but he wasn’t strong enough and it fell into the back of the net. He should have saved it.
Holland did try to get a goal back but the quality in the final third was non-existent. Depay on the left wing cut a pass back to Promes who played it into Dost. It was alarming how it got through to him, but the pace of the ball was too high and he was unable to turn and have a shot on goal. Pickford saved easily.
Despite that period after going a goal down, Holland were ineffectual and essentially gave England’s back three a night off.
Just as the game was livening up, both managers made a whole host of changes – as is always the case in friendlies – which played into England’s hands. The game died down with the new players adjusting and England were not called into question.
It was positive to see England try to double their advantage. With ten minutes to go, they carried on searching for another goal and Trippier nearly awarded them one but his long-range shot was batted away by Zoet. But the final five minutes was somewhat nervy, and against a stronger side they will need to improve their game management.
The blistering pace which runs through this England team will be hard to contain for any side, England’s passing and movement when they had the ball was very impressive. When you add Harry Kane and Eric Dier to the side it looks like a very promising side.
But the big questions before the game about who plays in goal and whether the back three is the right formation, remain unanswered – for now.
Van Dijk 5
De Vrij 6
De Ligt 5
Van Aanholt 6
Subs used: Babel 6, Propper 6, Weghorst, van de Beek
Subs used: Maguire 7, Alli 6 Vardy 6 Welbeck 6 Young 6, Dier
Xplode’s Man of the Match – Jesse Lingard