In claiming only their third opening game victory at a World Cup, England provided plenty of positive signs. Without scrutinizing lapses in concentration, an uneasy defense and startling profligacy in front of goal, here are some things for England fans to optimistically cling to if they are to go deep into this tournament.
It’s all very well claiming to have a philosophy or a style in soccer, but little of it matters unless there are tangible signs on the pitch. Gareth Southgate, a long time employee with the national set-up, is well aware of what is wanted from the famed England DNA. He is arguably the best man to introduce it to the world on the global stage. And, for the first 30 minutes or so it was in clear evidence in Volgograd.
From the kick off England were positive. Playing on the front foot and attacking in numbers with intent. If the plan was to overwhelm their opposition with speed then it seemed to be paying off. This England team are set up to play to their strengths. Overlooking the lack of craft in the central positions in favor of a midfield that can break suddenly and decisively. Between Lingard, Alli and Sterling, the blueprints appeared to be in place for them to bombard their opponents with speed and incision. Their ability to harness these attributes for future games may well determine the success of their time in Russia.
Strength in depth
It’s rare in tournament soccer that a team’s first starting XI makes it through to their last appearance. For a country to succeed it needs to be able to rely on its strength in depth. Remaining flexible in adjustments to suit different opponents and introduce new tactical ideas.
On Monday evening, Gareth Southgate rolled the dice twice and both can be seen as unequivocal successes. Substituting a slightly injured Dele Alli and underperforming Raheem Sterling for Marcus Rashford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The youthful pair instantly appeared to be astute selections, providing a directness and high energy to a slowly fading team.
Southgate showed his ability to judge a game. He sensed what is needed and introduced it at the right moment and without panic. This bodes well for both the manager and his team.
It’s easy to think that England have long been masters of the set play but, in recent years, that has seldom been the case. Cast your mind back just two summers and you’ll find Harry Kane on corner duty and out of the poachers area from where he twice found the net against Tunisia.