England have been innovative and creative in tournament football under Gareth Southgate, switching systems and impressing the world with set pieces.
But could they reboot their game for the Euros in their opening game against Croatia? And where do they need to improve?
Sportsmail takes a look after the 1-0 win over Croatia.
Raheem Sterling celebrates scoring for England in the second half against Croatia
Have England gone backwards….?
It was, at times, a laboured affair, typical of an opening game played in the heat of the afternoon. For 10 minutes, England scintillated – was that Gazza or Phil Foden cutting inside to curl the ball on to the post? – before reverting to type.
England have grasped that possession is good. But they still don’t seem to have grasped that slow possession, moving the ball from side to side and back again, is no good to anyone. Other than an old Croatia side, who enjoyed the breaks in play and loved playing at that pace.
Pep Guardiola famously said: ‘I loathe all that passing for the sake of it, all that tiki-taka. It’s so much rubbish and has no purpose. You have to pass the ball with a clear intention, with the aim of making it into the opposition’s goal.’
England for much of the first half were passing for the sake of it, until they got bored and then Tyrone Mings launched a long pass, which would be picked off by Croatia’s centre halves.
Phil Foden in action during an impressive first half display from the Manchester City youngster
… or did patience pay off?
Like the opening game of the 2018 World Cup against Tunisia, which England won in injury time, you do have to wait your moment in major tournaments. Maybe Southgate will argue all that slow passing was for a reason.
But when they did actually move the move the ball with pace, it led directly to the opening goal – Kyle Walker playing it down the right quickly, for Kalvin Phillips. Crucially, the Leeds man attacked with purpose, helped by the fact that Josko Gvardiol missed his tackle. But it was in the next few metres of acceleration that Croatia were placed on the back foot.
Skipping past Duje Caleta-Car doubled the danger for Croatia, allowing Phillips to slide in Sterling for the opener. After that, suddenly England were alert again, Mason Mount, crossing for Harry Kane at the far post and then nicking the ball off Ante Rebic to surge into midfield, being brought down by Chelsea team-mate Mateo Kovacic.
This is surely how Southgate wants England to play, breaking through midfield, stretching teams, with energy? The sun took its toll and you can’t play that way for 90 minutes. But England were sparing in their intensity. It may have been enough for this opener. They’ll need more of this going forward.
Right-back Kieran Trippier played at left-back for England in the 1-0 win over Croatia
The big calls
Few would have started with Raheem Sterling but Southgate trusts his old soldiers. It was finishing that was once was Sterling’s problem for England, so the clinical nature of his one-touch strike to score was a vindication for the manager.
Southgate was never going to sacrifice pace entirely to play Foden and Jack Grealish. (Though neither is slow, Sterling and Marcus Rashford are dangerously quick). Ultimately it was Sterling’s ability to get in behind and run at Croatia which made the difference, for the goal and in the earlier moments when England occasionally looked dangerous.
That said, Kieran Trippier at left back was hardly a huge success. At times you longed for that Mount/Ben Chilwell link up. Neither of England’s full backs were able to push on in the way that they have managed to in past games. On the plus side, playing Phillips slightly further forward than his Leeds position allowed him to shine, his best game for England by far.
Kalvin Phillips was excellent in midfield for England and provided an assist for Raheem Sterling
England wowed the world with the love train and innovative set pieces at the 2018 World Cup. Here we were expecting more. But they had just one corner, Mason Mount taking it and looking for a header back at the far post, though it came off a Croatia player and did lead to a Kalvin Phillips shot.
Innovations seemed to consist only of Harry Kane and Tyrone Mings forming a wall in front of the Croatia wall, though the purpose was never clear. Trippier’s attempt to repeat his semi-final goal from similar distance went straight into the wall. Mount did much better in the second half and had Dominik Livakovic stretching with a fine effort from just outside the box.
All in all, there wasn’t much to see here. Mount looks like the main man. England will doubtless have more chance to show their repertoire as the tournament progresses.
Harry Kane, the England captain, struggled to impose himself on proceedings at Wembley
Jordan Pickford: can he kick it?
For once, Jordan Pickford’s performance was all about safe hands and steady takes. The part of his game that he usually brings to England, precise passing and kicking, had gone awry. It was curious as he looked superb in the Austria friendly.
England need the long ball from the keeper at times to launch quick counter attacks. At one point John Stones and Pickford argued over whether to play out or go long, Stones presumably suggesting that going shorter might have been more productive.
Overall, it is a result for Southgate to celebrate as attention turns to Scotland on Friday
Ben Chilwell is Southgate’s No 3 left back
You might have assumed after a key role in the Champions League final and playing his way back into Thomas Tuchel’s team, that Chilwell would be primed to start for England to exploit his superb link up with Mount. But it turned out that Chilwell was not even the No 2 left back in a squad with two left backs in it.
Chilwell, one of the more irrepressible characters in the squad and usually full of confidence, will have been devastated. He’s not even a bench warmer and it looks like he will be drinks monitor for the remainder of the tournament…
And Bukayo Saka is ahead of Jadon Sancho
Great though Saka’s form has been, not even making the bench and being demoted behind the Arsenal teenager will have been a huge blow to Sancho, who had an excellent end of season for Borussia Dortmund.
Southgate spoke two weeks ago about how impressed he had been by Sancho, before cautioning against reading too much into his Bundesliga’s stats (8 goals, 12 assists in 26 games) because the lower reaches of the German league, said Southgate, has variable quality.
It seemed to be damning an exciting prospect with faint praise. And here we saw exactly where Southgate has him in the pecking order. He will have to use his famed man management skills to pick Sancho up.
Tyrone Mings produced a commanding display in the heart of the England defence on Sunday