It’s fair to say an England friendly went well when the mood an hour after full-time was distinctly more positive than what we experienced in the build up. Pundits have lined up endlessly to point out this is the weakest England squad in living memory with Alan Smith even pointing out it felt like the Euro ’92 squad he was part of- ouch! What we saw in Amsterdam was a side with one huge advantage over Graham Taylor’s squad of ’92- an ability to pass the ball.
Gareth Southgate pulled a couple of surprises in his selection by playing Kyle Walker on the right side of the back 3 and deploying Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in central midfield- a move that previously backfired horribly last June against France. But in the opening skirmishes Oxlade-Chamberlain looked far more at ease in the centre and provided a waspish presence harrying the Dutch back line whilst Jordan Henderson got England moving by passing the ball positively around midfield- yes you did read that correctly!
After just 9 minutes Joe Gomez pulled up injured after an accidental collision and Harry Maguire was brought on for his 4th cap and Maguire immediately settled into England’s neat passing game as Holland struggled to gain an early foothold in the match.
On 16 minutes a quick passing movement from England engineered by Raheem Sterling ended in a Jesse Lingard shot but not a goal. Holland looked solid defensively but desperately lack a Philip Cocu style deep playmaker to engineer attacking moves. The first real threat the Dutch posed came after 25 minutes when a bizarrely awarded free kick almost fell for Quincy Promes- forcing Danny Rose into a sharp clearance.
But Sterling was proving a constant menace and his quick change of pace on 28 minutes forced a corner and England entered their strongest period of the first half with Henderson flashing a shot wide from a free kick then Sterling forced ‘keeper Jeroen Zoet into a footrace with the Zoet just managing to clear on 36 minutes.
Holland’s best moments continued to come from England’s mistakes and they forced a corner on 40 minutes after some over confidence from England’s back line gave the ball away and the fizzing corner caused a moment of uncertainty for Pickford but England escaped and ended an encouraging half at 0-0.
Holland started the second half with greater pace and urgency but England responded in kind and a swift break again from Sterling was abruptly halted by a dreadful cross from Rose. A minute later Memphis Depay created space down the left but failed to keep the ball in play before crossing and Holland had the ensuing goal correctly disallowed.
The game was becoming an end to end encounter and on 51 minutes Marcus Rashford was clearly fouled in the box by Matthijs De Ligt but the referee waved away the appeals. But England continued to press and a corner lead to Maguire’s cushioned header causing pandemonium in the Dutch box but Henderson couldn’t quite turn it home.
But on 58 minutes the goal finally came- a swift counter attack started by Lingard found Rose open down the left whose cross was met with a weak clearence that fell to Lingard who stroked home. Zoet got a hand to it but couldn’t keep it out and England had finally scored after 5 successive goalless halves of football.
Spurred into life Holland pushed forward and England started to look panicked by the notion they suddenly had something to lose. Strike pair Promes and Dost caused problems with their strength and aerial presence but couldn’t force a clear-cut opening.
On 68 minutes Southgate replaced the pacey front 3 with Jamie Vardy, Dele Alli & Danny Welbeck and England entered a period of game management. The match began to peter out with the Dutch lacking the creativity to open England up whilst England’s new front trio struggled to get up to the pace of the game.
On 82 minutes a robust John Stones challenge on one time Liverpool forward Ryan Babel handed Depay a free kick in a dangerous area but the former Manchester United man shot straight at Pickford. It proved the last meaningful act of the contest and England held out comfortably for a 1-0 win.
It gave Southgate his first friendly win as manager, England their first success against Holland since Euro ’96 and their first win in Amsterdam since they were World champions great omens indeed! The performance was excellent although should be put in the context of beating a rebuilding Dutch side who look a long way short of the great Oranje sides of old. Still England now have a defined style and formation of play that is improving game on game that is giving their fans cause for quiet optimism going into the World Cup.
Jordan Pickford 7– Distribution skills gave England an extra dimension (if occassioanly fans the jitters!) Caught out with a corner but made the routine stops and showed good presence in-goal.
Kieran Trippier 6- Great pace and an outlet on the right but an unusually mixed bag of crosses
Kyle Walker 7- Settled in nicely to the back 3- perhaps in preparation to face Eden Hazard? Will surely play on the right-wing against Tunisia?
John Stones 7.5- Brushed aside concerns over his recent lack of games at City with a commanding defensive display combined with his trademark playmaking skills
Harry Maguire 7- Not actually a starter but on after 10 minutes in place of Gomez, excellent in possession and a threat from set pieces not really tested defensively.
Danny Rose 5- Showed plenty of energy on the left but looked rusty on crossing and a couple of defensive slips. Needs to regain his place at Spurs for the run-in to guarantee his England place.
Jordan Henderson 7.5- Excellent in the metronome midfield role, showed more ambition in his passing and almost scored, now assured of his place in Russia.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain 7- Much improved and showed tactical discipline in midfield, made some driving runs early on and showed a good understanding with Liverpool teammate Henderson.
Jesse Lingard 7- I was just writing how he hadn’t done a lot when he scored! Showed he can transfer his improved club form onto the international stage and his movement was excellent throughout. World Cup place assured!
Raheem Sterling 8- His best England display since 2014! Sterling was positive, poised and posed a constant threat with his pace and tricks. A nailed on starter this summer.
Marcus Rashford 7- Showed good movement and understanding with Sterling and Lingard but could have got into the box more often. Looks set for an impact sub role this summer.
Joe Gomez 5- Injured early did nothing wrong
Danny Welbeck 5- Did nothing of note
Jamie Vardy 5- Did he touch the ball?
Dele Alli 5- Provided some drive but gave the ball away too often, needs a big performance on Tuesday to ensure his place in the starting 11 this summer.
Ashley Young 5- Steady in defense, needs a start on Tuesday to truly stake a claim.
Eric Dier n/a- Played a few minutes, made 1 defensive header.