Saturday night was, in the view of many England fans, a typical performance from the Three Lions; positive, attacking, high tempo football undone by a simple lapse of concentration in the 92nd minute. While this is true, the performance was far from as disastrous as some fans made it out to be. Indeed, there are some positives from the performance for Roy Hodgson to focus on, in preparation for the squad’s Group B crunch match against Wales tomorrow lunchtime.
The performance of Eric Dier, in particular, is positive enough to view Saturday night’s draw with Russia as far from negative. The Spurs holding midfielder put in a battling performance that any side in the tournament would value, whilst his Beckham-esque free kick to open the scoring put the shine on a grafting, hardworking, combative display.
Alongside him, Wayne Rooney operated in a much deeper role than he has done previously for the national side, and the captain looked a completely different, much more effective player. Similarly to the role Louis Van Gaal cast him in towards the end of the domestic season at Manchester United, Rooney was able to protect possession in front of his defence, whilst using his vision and passing ability to control the tempo and performance. He was replaced by Jack Wilshere in the last 20 minutes, which seemed a strange decision by Hodgson, as his skipper was controlling the match. The Arsenal midfielder showed glimpses of his ability to drive from midfield, but is clearly still lacking match fitness, so judging him on this cameo would be harsh.
The decision to deploy Rooney in the deeper role answers the question as to whether he can feature in the same side as Dele Alli; most definitely yes, based on Saturday night. The Spurs playmaker was quiet by his high standards, but showed flashes of the form that earned him the PFA Young Player of the Year award. Like Adam Lallana, he looks as though he will grow with confidence following the opening fixture.
Harry Kane, another of the Spurs contingent, also looked quiet; he had the ball in the net in the first half from an offside position, but failed to really have an impact on the game. His movement and forward play, however, kept the Russian centre backs on their toes all match, and it is more likely that Saturday was merely an off-day for the young striker, rather than that he is unable to compete at the top level. One thing that has been established about Kane’s performance, though, is that he is wasted on corner duties. With players of Rooney and Alli’s calibre in the starting lineup, it seems baffling to have Kane, the Premier League’s top scorer this season, taking the set pieces, rather than in the box getting on the end of them.
The fullbacks, Danny Rose and Kyle Walker, are also worth a positive mention. Both offered a real attacking threat when going forward, whilst looking solid defensively. Hodgson can have no complaints with either.
So despite the sucker punch of conceding a last minute equaliser, the England squad have plenty of reasons to be optimistic ahead of the Home Nations clash against Wales. Whilst a couple of players may have failed to impress (Raheem Sterling‘s pace is a definite asset but his distribution must improve to command a starting place), the overall performance from England was good. The importance of the Spurs spine throughout the team was highlighted, particularly the effectiveness of the fullbacks, and the dominating control asserted by Dier in the middle of the park. If he, and Rooney alongside him, can control the midfield against Wales in a similar manner to Saturday night, the supply to Gareth Bale will be hindered. England have enough about their attack to outwit the Welsh defence, and if they win the midfield battle, the game is there to be won.
Yes, conceding a last minute equaliser is frustrating, but it shouldn’t overshadow all the positives on show from England on Saturday night.