Gareth Southgate named a fairly experimental squad for the recent England friendlies. One that raised a fair few eyebrows when announced.
The results were fairly positive, managing a 1-0 in Amsterdam against the Netherlands and drawing 1-1 at Wembley against the Italians. The performances were praised too, with fluidity going forward, confidence on the ball and players taking their opportunity in the team.
If it wasn’t for a contentious VAR decision, England would have kept yet another clean sheet. These games may have given Southgate some indication as to whom his final 23 will be, of which he has to finalise before Englands final warm-up games against Nigeria & Costa Rica.
We take a look at who came out of these last friendlies with their reputation enhanced, and those who may have lost some ground on the road to the World Cup.
Who enhanced their reputation?
Since his move to Liverpool in search of more game time, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has improved leaps and bounds. Under the tutelage of Jurgen Klopp, he has made the central midfield role he so desired his own.
His energy and drive proved key for Englands performances against the Netherlands and Italy last week. Providing Southgate with the ability to carry the ball further up the pitch, putting England in the unfamiliar territory of being on the front foot.
The Ox, as he is known, has surely played himself into a starting berth at the World Cup. The central midfield roles are up for grabs and he has the ability to provide something nobody else in contention for selection can. His dynamism is something England have missed for years and could be a key weapon for the upcoming tournament.
Leicester City’s central defender has impressed on every England appearance so far. His league form has also earned him many plaudits throughout the season.
Now seen by many as a first choice in Englands back three, he dominates in the air and has the ability to bring the ball out from the back with confidence. His natural want to play on the left hand side of the centre backs is key for England who lack in that area.
His experience in backs-to-the-wall defending is something that England could well call upon on numerous occasions during the upcoming World Cup. An elegant defender, one who fits the way Southgate wants England to play, a certain starter in the opening group game.
Whose reputation suffered?
Despite not being directly at fault for anything major during these friendlies. His risk taking proved a little too much at times during the Italy game. His overconfidence on the ball put the team under pressure early on.
His attempts to dribble out of the back will be punished by the better teams in the World Cup. His lapses of concentration could cost England dearly against the likes of Germany, Spain & Brazil.
Despite being in a similar mould to the aforementioned Harry Maguire, Stones does not have the defensive solidity and is prone to committing more mistakes than the Leicester City man.
The new system brought in to take away all controversy. Apparently.
A video refereeing system which has been developed as a tool to aide referees in getting the key decisions correct. This was not the case during the international break. Despite the decision being taken to VAR, many feel the resulting penalty is still contentious.
The referee viewed the footage no less than 5 times after being prompted by his assistants. This took the momentum out the game, kept the fans in the dark and ultimately came to a decision that isn’t definitively correct.
The system has many problems, one of them being that it doesn’t make every decision black & white, there are still grey areas. If decisions like this were made in the World Cup Final, would there be any point in implementing it at all?