Harry Kane celebrates with Phil Foden
(The FA via Getty Images)
England overcame a slow start to cruise to a comfortable victory over Albania, with goals from Harry Kane and Mason Mount securing a 2-0 victory in Tirana.
The Three Lions took a while to wake up, and were lucky to not fall behind after 12 minutes when Myrto Uzuni blazed a shot over the bar after being played through on goal.
They continued to be frustrated by a stubborn Albanian defence but found the breakthrough thanks to Harry Kane’s excellent header from a Luke Shaw cross.
Kane rattled the crossbar from less than six yards moments later, before Phil Foden saw an effort tipped onto the post early in the second half.
Mason Mount doubled England’s lead as the visitors punished an Albania mistake just after the hour, as Gareth Southgate saw an improved, if unspectacular, display from his side after the break. Here are five things we learned as England made it two wins out of two on the road to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Kane set to thrive on attacking quality
If Harry Kane won the Golden Boot at the 2018 World Cup despite feeding off scraps for most of the tournament, how many goals could England’s number nine rack up at the Euros this summer when surrounded by all of England’s newfound attacking talent?
Based on this display, it could depend on how much he embraces the role of a “penalty box” striker.
Much of Kane’s best work for Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League this season has been through his play as a 9/10 hybrid, dropping deep to receive the ball before firing passes into space for striker partner Son Heung-min.
We’ve seen him do that for England, too, notably in the 3-2 win in Spain in October 2018. But England are a different team now, suddenly blessed with an array players who do their best work with the ball at their feet in half-spaces on the edge of the box.
As we saw against Albania, England’s play can become a little crowded when you then add Kane dropping deep into the mix, while they were far more effective when the Spurs striker stayed between the posts and positioned himself on the last line of the Albania defence.
After a frustrating opening half hour, he snatched at the opportunity to give England the lead when he diverted Shaw’s cross across goal and into the net in the 38th minute, before hitting the bar moments later when he got on the end of another excellent delivery from the left, this time from Raheem Sterling.
Kane was much quieter in the second half, although he did provide the assist for Mount’s goal, but those two first-half attempts showed how much more effective England are when their captain plays as a poacher.
Harry Kane celebrates opening the scoringAFP via Getty Images
If you were searching for narrative ahead of England’s match in Tirana, you only had to look to Southgate’s back four.
Not only was it an all-Manchester back-line, with Manchester City’s Kyle Walker and John Stones joining Manchester United’s Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw in a defence that bridged derby divides, but it also featured two key recalls to Southgate’s side.
While Stones made his England return against San Marino, it was Shaw’s turn this time around to make his Three Lions comeback as he handed his first international start since September 2018.
The left-back has been in fine form for United this season, increasingly becoming a threat in attacking areas, and he crowned his recall to the England team by assisting Harry Kane’s first-half header with an accurate cross from the left.
Sunday’s back-line also had a familiar look to it, with Southgate reuniting the 2018 World Cup defence of Walker, Maguire and Stones that helped England reach the semi-finals in Russia, albeit in a different formation.
It’s a trio that Southgate clearly trusts, and with the form of Shaw an added bonus on the left, it would be no surprise to see the England manager go with it again when they welcome Poland to Wembley on Wednesday.
After being rested for England’s win over San Marino, it was no surprise to see Declan Rice brought into England’s midfield for the trip to Tirana.
It was a interesting, however, to see that Rice came in to play alongside Kalvin Phillips, with the Leeds United man retaining his place from Thursday’s 5-0 victory.
Out of all of England’s positional departments, the central midfield area is the one with the most question marks surrounding it ahead of the Euros, and the possibility of a Rice-Phillips double pivot has been largely unmentioned thus far.
On paper, it was a conservative selection, with both players offering similar skillsets in shielding England’s back four, and in reality, it was.
England looked slow and ponderous in a poor first-half display, and appeared to be in desperate need of another natural ball carrier who could progress the ball into the final third. Southgate’s side also looked susceptible to the counter-attack, in spite of the selection of two holding midfielders, and Albania should have taken the lead following a break in the first half.
In the face of opponents who were happy to drop deep, the Rice-Phillips pivot proved to be a confusing choice by Southgate, and England looked a lot more threatening in the second half following the introduction of James Ward-Prowse, who was prepared to make runs in behind. The balance of Rice-plus-Phillips did not work for England here.
Mason Mount celebrates scoring England’s secondGetty Images
England choose not to use their voice, yet
Despite growing calls from across Europe this week, England’s players did not join in on the visible stand against human rights abuses in Qatar, the host nation of the 2022 World Cup, before their match at the Air Albania Stadium.
Players from Germany and Netherlands have joined Norway in displaying their support for migrant workers in the country this week, and on Saturday, Erling Haaland and his Norway team-mates stepped up their campaign by urging other European countries to follow their protest by wearing t-shirts that read: “Norway, Germany, Next?”
Southgate has said the FA are in discussions with Amnesty International in order to formulate their response, while Kane said England’s players would discuss the issue, but it seems that any action they take will not extend to the pitch, which was their approach before the San Marino match as well.
This generation of England internationals have proved, on numerous occasions, to be eloquent speakers on a range of social issues, including racism and food inequality, but have yet to stray into this one.
The issue of human rights abuses in Qatar, and football’s responses to it in the build up to the 2022 World Cup, will not be going away any time soon, so the longer England go without a visible display of condemnation, especially while other European countries lead the way, the louder their silence will become.
Nick Pope was rarely called into actionAFP via Getty Images
Hard to judge Pope
After perhaps having the quietest 90 minutes of his goalkeeping career against San Marino at Wembley, Pope was rightly given another shot to stake his claim for the England No 1 jersey against Albania, but again had little to do here.
There was a bit more evidence to examine the Burnley goalkeeper with, however, even if he didn’t have a save to make.
In a poor first half for England, it did not help that Pope was less than convincing with his feet, slicing one kick into touch with his left foot early on before hitting another pass to his left out of play midway through the first half.
Those moments of uncertainty, despite how small and insignificant they appear, can set the tone of games at the highest level, but Pope did recover for a more assured second-half display, and a second clean sheet of the week.
On this evidence, we are no closer to figuring out the Pope-Jordan Pickford debate, but with Robert Lewandowski to come at Wembley on Wednesday, Southgate can at least expect his goalkeeper to be tested against the Bayern Munich striker, which could be how Pope stakes his claim to usurp Jordan Pickford and claim the number one jersey.
Published: 2021-03-28 19:07:21
Tags: #learned #Lions #cruise #victory