LONDON — This does not mean that the last 70 minutes were not, not to mention the five previous games, which meant England already dropped out of the League of Nations. A little about England’s spectacular kickback that briefly turned a 2-0 deficit against Germany at the expense of 3-2 is sure to be played in Qatar after 56 days.
But, at least for a moment, the sun has broken out of the clouds that have hovered over English football in recent months in a 3-3 draw against Germany, where the win was annulled. Kai Havertz. The team, which became painful to look at, reminded the public why they fell head over heels last summer. Who knows if this will last until the World Cup and when criticism of Gareth Southgate resumes. For now, as fleeting as it may be, that connection is worth far more than two points in this second tier competition.
How fitting that the man who restored this reunion was a player so popular all over the world in this part of London. No name was cheered louder by the Wembley crowd than Bukayo Saka even when England’s best international men’s player was just on the bench. It was easy to see why. As soon as Saka and Mason Mount came to the fore, England’s game had a punch and brilliance that had been lacking since, well, you might have to go back to a 4-0 win over Ukraine in the Euro 2020 quarter-finals.
Three minutes later, the score was level, with Luke Shaw shooting a volley at the back post after Saka found Rhys James in a cross position. Arsenal No. 7 then drove through the German backline, teeing into the Mount to knock the ball off the first throw. Marc-Andre ter Stegen. He then missed a pass to an outstanding Jude Bellingham in the box, Nico Schlotterbeck clumsily shot his Borussia Dortmund teammate in the back, giving Harry Kane the chance to give England the lead from the penalty spot. Saka could have even won it to death with Ter Stegen’s brilliant save in stoppage time.
Even groping away Nick Pope, skittish in his handling of the ball and distant from himself when it came to stopping the shot, which allowed Havertz to equalize, couldn’t dampen the mood. Everything at Wembley has changed, at least for those who stayed for an hour or more out of boredom. The Southgate changes corrected the problems created by the choice of Southgate.
But these problems exist, and they are everywhere. For most of this game, they have created very little, when to beat Raheem Sterling in the first half requires the same excellent passes as Shaw, then there is something to work on.
The England manager has more confidence in Sterling than in the financial markets, but a run of two goals in 11 games since Euro 2020 means it’s worth at least considering the merits of Marcus Rashford, who at his best can offer similar qualities as a support striker . to his colleague from Chelsea. After another match in which he struggled to make a meaningful impact, Phil Foden could not have any claims if Saka started instead of him against Iran at the opening of the World Cup.
Short of their transition play, England had very few ideas of what to do with the ball at their feet other than the hope that Bellingham could beat a man or two. He could often and his partnership with Declan Rice improved as this game went on. The biggest challenge may be getting them the ball.
Pope appeared to have beaten Aaron Ramsdale in the race for first place in the reserves. Jordan Pickfordbut the Newcastle player doesn’t offer as much progress with the ball as his Arsenal counterparts and Everton. Nervous moments in possession are one thing, but they also come with goalkeepers who also want the ball at their feet. Of more concern may be how slowly England pulled the ball out of their penalty area as it hit their number one.
In the 19th minute, Pope landed an aimless shot down the field that held the ball for several seconds without pressure, only to then roll the ball a few feet towards John Stones. Immediately the German press swooped down on England, the chance to get the ball further down the field was lost due to slow play from behind. Add to that his clumsy outpouring Serge Gnabry shot and it was a night to forget for dad.
However, it was nothing compared to the turmoil that Harry Maguire endured. Even if you think Southgate’s commitment to the players who have carried him so far in past tournaments is admirable, there comes a point where persistence with players under difficult circumstances does more harm than good. The few cheers that greeted his presence in the starting XI looked less like fuel for the fire and more like a grim warning of what was to come to the Manchester United captain.
A solid first half was quickly wiped out by three errors that added up to two German goals. The first two were very easy. Maguire simply didn’t look up as he passed out, handing the ball to Jamal Musiala and then knocking it to the ground when the Bayern Munich youth pounded it with nutmeg. The 29-year-old defender could have gotten away with conceding the ball after 15 minutes, but Havertz punished him with a brilliant curling shot.
Maguire’s nerves seemed contagious after the debut. Eric Dyerdependable in the first half, slid down the turf in the second and for a moment England looked up to him for a take that was so rare before Euro 2020 ended in grief.
If the World Cup had not been so close on the horizon, the solution to England’s problems might have been more obvious. There are options to replace Maguire, but no Mark Guey. Fikayo Tomori or Ben White was given many minutes in a three-lion shirt.
Equally, if Southgate wants to go back to the approach that took him to a World Cup semi-final and a second-place finish at the European Championships – his choice of an extra defender in response to Friday’s manual defeat in Italy suggests he is – then he can’t afford to yourself to carry defenders who give goals to the opponent. The Southgate template (keep the shot count for both teams and trust that your strikers or centre-back at set-piece will use their chances more than the opponent) requires a defense that can keep the opposition in the 0.5 to 1 region of expected goals.
Southgate has game-turning forwards, even from seemingly doomed positions, but if England really want to make their mark in Qatar, they need to make sure they have six defenders who won’t demand from their forwards what Saka made today.