England recently hosted former World Cup winners, and three-time European Championship winners, Spain, at Wembley for an international friendly. The fixture, played a few days after England’s victory over Scotland in their World Cup qualification campaign, seemed to provide an opportunity for experimentation, with manager Gareth Southgate perhaps installing his philosophy into the younger players in the squad in order to provide them with the experience necessary to compete at international level. More pivotally perhaps, may have been Southgate’s performance in this fixture; with his tenure as interim manager coming to a close, this may have been his final opportunity to increase his credentials, and influence the FA in giving him the job permanently.
Pre-match, it seemed Spain may have been the favourites; the European side have emerged victorious in three of the previous five major tournaments, and as such this seemed to be an opportunity for England to test themselves versus one of the best teams in Europe. Simultaneously, Southgate headed into the match with the understanding this may be his final fixture in his tenure as interim manager, and as such seemed to be looking to gain victory in order to enhance his credentials as a candidate for the permanent job. As such, he seemed to field a venomous line-up, with Leicester’s Jamie Vardy, scorer of 24 EPL goals last season, spearheading the team. Ultimately, it seemed Southgate may have been continuing with his favoured tactics and formation: a 4-2-3-1 with anchor-men in holding midfield and overlapping full backs in order to ensure football was played on the counter.
The hosts entered an early lead after 11 minutes through an Adam Lallana penalty; the Liverpool midfielder placing his kick into Pepe Reina’s top corner as a result of Spain’s goalkeeper fouling Vardy. As a result, the Three Lions seemed to take the initiative, seeming to successfully nullify Spain’s continuous opportunities, and playing football at pace on the counter in order to create chances for themselves. After half-time, Southgate’s tactics seemed to provide dividends further, with Henderson, captain on the night in the absence of Wayne Rooney, crossing the ball into the penalty box, with Jamie Vardy’s diving header doubling England’s lead. Southgate did seem to provide opportunities for the younger players to showcase their talents on the Wembley pitch, substituting on Marcus Rashford, along with Andros Townsend and debutant Aaron Cresswell, in the latter stages; perhaps an attempt to solidify their advantage. Yet, it was the former World Champions who ultimately may be more satisfied with the result, as a goal from debutant Iago Aspas seemed to culminate in a momentum swing, with another substitute, Isco, equalising in the 5th minute of added time.
Southgate seems to have performed consistently during his tenure as England manager, recording two wins and two draws during his time in charge. Crucially, it seems he may have had the opportunity to test his credentials versus teams of varying tactics and philosophies, seemingly enhancing his ability as a manager and perhaps allowing him to draw on these experiences in the future. Perhaps more notable may be his continuous adaptation of tactics, formations and players; having utilised multiple players across all of his matches, he may have increased competition for places in the squad, perhaps contributing to players playing at a consistently high level in order to ensure they are included in the squad for the World Cup.
Whilst Spain may leave Wembley satisfied with a draw, it seems to be England who may be able to utilise this result in a more productive manner. In playing the former European champions, it seems to have enabled them to have an opportunity to compete versus the best, and gage the progress they may have made under Southgate. Additionally, with England finishing with 7 points from three qualifiers under the former U21’s manager, it may seem Southgate has ensured England are heading in a fresh, innovative direction after Sam Allardyce’s departure. Ultimately, 2017 seems to be the catalyst in new players, looking to emulate their teammates and achieve a place in the squad, and perhaps a new manager, instigating the quest for glory in Russia 2018.
How may the determination to reach the 2018 World Cup motivate both the England players and manager?