London (AFP) – Exactly one year ago, England kicked off their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign with a fortuitous 1-0 win over Slovakia in what was Sam Allardyce’s only match as manager before being axed.
With Gareth Southgate now in charge of England, the Three Lions faced Slovakia again, winning 2-1 at Wembley on Monday.
AFP Sport looked at five ways the much-maligned national team has changed in the last 365 days.
Southgate finding his feet
After England’s tepid victory over Malta on Friday, Southgate admitted it would take time to develop a winning mentality in a squad comprised of players with little experience of Champions League or international success.
His warning appeared especially prescient in a turgid opening 30 minutes as England fell behind to Stanislav Lobotka’s early opener and failed to heed their manager’s call to excite Wembley crowd.
England eventually found some measure of momentum and goals from Eric Dier and Marcus Rashford moved them within touching distance of the finals, yet the pragmatic Southgate will know major improvement is needed to make an impact in Russia.
New faces offer hope
Tactically little had changed as Southgate deployed the same 4-2-3-1 formation used by Allardyce, but the personnel was altered and England were at least marginally improved as a result.
With John Stones, Danny Rose, Wayne Rooney, Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana all out after starting under Allardyce, Phil Jones, Ryan Bertrand, Dele Alli, Rashford and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came in.
After a woeful start, Southgate will take heart from the way his much-changed team eventually imposed their will, albeit against relatively toothless opponents.
Alli a work in progress
Back in the brief Allardyce era, Wayne Rooney was central to England’s plans, but the Everton star’s recent international retirement confirmed Alli’s place as England’s main playmaker.
Unfortunately for Southgate, Alli has yet to reproduce his vibrant club form in an England shirt and once again he was a diffident figure for long periods.
Even his defensive-minded Tottenham team-mate Dier has more England goals than Alli, who once again offered only fleeting glimpses of his vast talent.
Rashford goes from zero to hero
Rashford, left out Allardyce’s only England squad, endured a miserable beginning to his first Wembley start for his country, but the Manchester United forward still underlined why he could emerge as a game-changer for Southgate with a man of the match display.
Rashford was at fault for Slovakia’s opener, giving the ball away cheaply deep inside his own half, then committing the cardinal sin of failing to track back as Lobotka fired home.
However, switched from the right to the left wing midway through the first half, the 19-year-old became England’s main attacking threat, providing the corner that brought Dier’s equaliser before puting them ahead with a superb long-range strike.
Kane needs help
Finding a consistent supply line to Harry Kane is crucial to England’s hopes of success at the World Cup, but Southgate is yet to solve that problem.
Although Kane’s prolific form for Tottenham has made him one of the Premier League’s most feared strikers, he often looks less dynamic in an England shirt.
Much of that is due to the lack of service and, after scoring twice against Malta, Tottenham striker Kane was largely anonymous as he laboured to make the most of England’s inconsistent approach play.