Exhilarating, courageous in possession and tactically superb. These are qualities that would be most associated with Luis Enrique’s Spain ahead of the Uefa Nations League qualifier on Monday Night against England in Seville.
La Roja’s notorious tika-tika style of play has captivated the entire football world in recent times, culminating in successive European titles in 2008 and 2012 either side of their first ever World Cup triumph in South Africa in 2010.
However it was Gareth Southgate’s England who delivered an excellent performance to secure a thrilling 3-2 victory that inflicted the hosts’ first home loss in competitive action for 15 years.
England’s form post an outstanding World Cup in Russia has been somewhat underwhelming, since they returned home as heroes following their exploits in Russia, reaching their first semi-final for 28 years and exceeding all expectations along the way. They needed to make a statement in Seville, and they did exactly that.
Southgate’s players delivered the courageous and fearlessness approach their manager demanded. Spain seemed astonished at England’s refusal to take a backward step and simply observe them keep possession.
In attack in the first-half the combination of two-goal Raheem Sterling, scoring his first international goals in three years, 27 games and 1,810 minutes since he scored in the 2-0 win over Estonia at Wembley, Marcus Rashford and the brilliant Harry Kane, who recently disputed speculation of being ‘tired’ and ‘flat’, tormented Spain.
England pressed in numbers with great intensity and the pace of Sterling and Rashford, accompanied by sheer excellence and physical power of Kane, completely dismantled the Spanish defence with England exploiting gaps left within the Spanish rearguard.
Meanwhile Eric Dier was tasked with tracking Sergio Busquets to make sure the Barcelona man couldn’t act as the link between defence and midfield and dictate play for the Spaniard’s, severely disrupting Spain’s shape trhoughout.
In addition, Southgate’s defensive line was also set up to near perfection, neither high enough to allow Spain’s pacy, industrious and technically gifted forwards to run in behind or so deep that there was room in front for the likes Marco Asensio and Iago Aspas to drop into space and operate in a number 10 role when receiving the ball to feet.
Gareth Southgate’s desire to reinvent England as a team capable of playing excellent football with top quality took an enormous stride towards its goal as his team put three past a shell-shocked in an outstanding opening half for Southgate’s men.
Southgate’s tactical flexibility and shrewdness was demonstrated in Seville. In the previous meeting between these two teams, a 2-1 win for Spain at Wembley in England’s Nations League campaign opener in September, England persisted with the 3-5-2/3-1-4-2 formation that had served them so well in the World Cup.
However, Southgate recognised that his side need to change tactically and adapt from that defeat, introducing the 4-3-3 system, setting up his team to defend in a more compact shape, drawing Spain out of position and subsequently hitting them on the counter-attack, exploiting the high line he knew Enrique would deploy.
In Seville Southgate retained his trust in youth, fielding England’s youngest starting XI since 1959 with an average age of just over 23.
Joe Gomez, Liverpool’s 21-year-old defender who has made a superb start to the season and Tottenham midfield man Harry Winks, just 22, came in for the suspended John Stones and Jordan Stones, and both excelled.
Meanwhile Leicester’s Ben Chillwell, 21, once again showed excellent composure at left back throughout. The fearlessness nature of the youth within the team was undoubtedly a key factor in the way England went toe-to-toe with the Spaniards and came out on top after a difficult opening period to the game.
In addition, watching from the bench on this historic night was 21-year-old Leicester midfielder James Maddison, who has been outstanding in the Premier League so far this season following his summer transfer from Norwich. He was joined by teenagers Jadon Sancho and Mason Mount, who have both have made excellent starts to the season showing plenty of promise at Borussia Dortmund and Derby City respectively.
This exemplifies Southgate’s desire to blood young talent within the squad, with players of immense potential capable of breaking into the starting XI and providing Southgate with more options within the squad
Although Spain were able to score twice in the second half to reduce the deficit, through Paco Alcacer and a 97 minute header from captain Sergio Ramos, Southgate’s men were able to hold onto the victory and secure a truly impressive 3-2 victory in Seville.
Following the match, Southgate expressed his delight at his team’s performance, highlighting how capable his players are while also encouraging them to take risks and be adventurous.
“The players should be incredibly proud of their performance” Southgate told Sky Sports
“We spoke to the forward players before the game to remind them what a threat they are and they were outstanding, causing all sorts of problems”
Southgate added “Then it was up to the rest of the team to be brave and we did that really well at times. We are encouraging them to take risks. The young players put on a mature performance and withstood pressure really well.”
Despite brilliantly surpassing all expectations and reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup in the summer, there was that lingering claim that England had, once again, failed to beat what would be considered as a leading nation in world football competitvely
This changed in the Nations League fixture in Seville in the kind of performance and result that will enhance belief and confidence that England are genuinely capable of competing with the top nations in world football, and should be considered as one of the favourites to win Euro 2020.
If this is a sign of Gareth Southgate’s new England, its a very exciting and exuberant one. England are becoming more tactically astute, adept with the ball and clinical . Southgate is beginning to create a new golden generation, one which is capable of achieving something very special.