It’s no surprise that the match-winning strike against the Netherlands at the Johan Cruyff Arena came from a Manchester United player, our very own J Lingz. Having scored 14 goals so far this season, Jesse Lingard is certainly making his case for a place in Gareth Southgate’s starting XI against Tunisia in June.
The 1-0 win against Holland was far from convincing but most definitely encouraging. Though England were dominant throughout the game, their final ball still needs improvement if they are to mount a serious challenge in June.
Attention must now be turned to England’s next, and perhaps more difficult, international friendly fixture, against Italy.
Four years ago, at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Italy beat an underwhelming England side 2-1 in the Arena Amazonia.
Fast forward to 2018, there is much to be optimistic about. The Three Lions’ display against Holland showcased resolve. They will need to produce and grind out 1-0 results such as this in preparation for greater tests.
Perhaps this game against Italy will provide Gareth Southgate with the best possible evaluation of how far this English team has come.
The once mighty Azzurri, winners of the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Berlin, failed to qualify for this year’s tournament. Despite this, the Italian national team boasts myriad of talent, from the legendary Gianluigi Buffon to the experienced Giorgio Chiellini and skilful Lorenzo Insigne.
Italy’s decline was evident through their previous fixture, a friendly against Argentina, one of the favourites for the 2018 World Cup.
The game began with an emotional tribute to the former defender and Fiorentina captain, Davide Astori, who sadly passed away earlier this month at the age of 31.
A poor performance, mirrored by their 2-0 defeat, demonstrated why Italy will not be at Russia playing in June.
What can we expect from this game?
Well, both teams will be determined to claim the victory. As England and Italy are equally feature in the top 20 FIFA world rankings, they will seek to prove that they can compete with the world’s best.
Gareth Southgate will almost certainly implement some squad rotations. Beginning with the position most up for grabs, the England manager needs to decide on his first-choice shot stopper. Everton goalkeeper, Jordan Pickford, put in an assured performance against the Netherlands but will face competition from Stoke’s Jack Butland.
The latter is most likely to feature against Italy, with England also having the uncapped Burnley goalkeeper, Nick Pope, and out-of-form Joe Hart who is currently on-loan at West Ham.
It is vital that whoever starts in goal produces a performance worthy of cementing their placing in the starting XI for June.
Moving onto the defence, England played with a distinct formation: three defenders and two wingbacks on either flank.
Opting to start with Man-of-the-match Kyle Walker, John Stones proved a success. An early injury that forced Joe Gomez off could see Leceister’s Harry Maguire retain his spot as Gomez’s replacement. England can also call upon Burnley’s James Tarkowski and Swansea’s Alfie Mawson to take up their defensive positions. With absentees such as Manchester United’s central defence pairing of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, Southgate has plenty of options.
On the wings, Kieran Trippier enjoyed an excellent game, drifting out wide into pockets of space and constantly providing service into the box. Danny Rose endured an average performance but will also need to increase his performance levels. Given the strength in depth of the squad with other possible wingbacks including Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand, Ashley Young and Kyle Walker, even defensive positions will be hotly-contested.
In midfield, Tottenham’s Eric Dier and Dele Alli will probably start against Italy, having made short appearances last week.
Those who seem to have a greater task of forcing their way into England’s starting XI include Liverpool’s Adam Lallana and Jake Livermore. Both are on the fringes of the England setup. With the likes of Raheem Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin, Jesse Lingard and captain Jordan Henderson almost certain to start, there is a fierce competition for places within England’s midfield.
Against Italy, Southgate may also give Bournemouth’s Lewis Cook a chance to shine at some stage.
Our wonderkid Marcus Rashford started against Holland and was denied a clear penalty. Whether he starts for England is less clear, given that Southgate may want to experiment with the pace of Leicester’s Jamie Vardy as a lone striker. Danny Welbeck also made an appearance last week though despite consistently performing well for his national side, has much to do if he wants to lead the line against Tunisia in June.
Italy, and in particular Giorgio Chiellini, will breath a sigh of relief that they will not have to face the emphatic Harry Kane. Still side-lined with an ankle injury, it may provide the national team with a source of confidence that the top goal-scoring English striker this season will still come into the fray.
Another position to consider is that of Jack Wilshere. His direct and penetrating runs, coupled with his sharp passing ability, would have been invaluable against Italy. Yet his continual injury problems, which rules him out of this game, overwhelmingly undermines his chances of getting on the plane to Russia.
At this point, Southgate will have some idea of certain starters for his XI against Tunisia. However, there is still plenty of time for last-minute performances that may give the English manager something to think about.
With Italy, their young goalkeeper Gianlugi Donnarumma will succeed the veteran Buffon in the near future.
England will face tough opposition from the robust central defender Leonardo Bonnuci. Whilst in more attacking positions, Verratti, Immobile and Insigne will be expected to pose a significant threat.
Given England’s potential to play exciting football, The United Devils believe that The Three Lions can reverse the 2014 result and are going for a score prediction of 2-1 England.