England produced a clinical win to beat Germany 2-0 to progress to the quarter-final of Euro 2020. They will face the winner of Ukraine and Sweden.
Much was made of whether Gareth Southgate would stick with a back four or revert to a back three for the challenge of Joachim Low's Germany.
And the England manager plumped for a back three. Whether that was a proactive or conservative move was contingent on how that tactical infrastructure was implemented.
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Thomas Muller set the tone of the match early, first cajoling and then demanding his team push high whenever England had possession. However, England withstood an early spell of pressure to assert themselves.
But, the whole attacking system was contingent on Kane dropping and conducting. That did not happen for large periods. The introduction of Jack Grealish from the bench gave England the impetus Kane could not and allowed England to claim a clinical win.
It was a 3-4-3 formation. This, nominally, introduced an extra defender to proceedings, with Kyle Walker dropping in alongside Harry Maguire and John's Stones, and Kieran Trippier and Luke Shaw operating in the wing-back positions.
That looks a conservative, pragmatic decision. However, another read is that it engaged Germany's most potent threat: Robin Gosens and Joshua Kimmich.
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The midfield - with Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice stationed centrally - lacked a pure creator but, that, in theory, opened up space for Kane to drop into as he has done so with such effectiveness for Tottenham.
Bukayo Saka, after an impressive performance against the Czech Republic, retained his place, with Raheem Sterling forming the last part of an attacking trifecta. If the intention was for Kane to provide for runners from wide then that did not happen.
The introduction of Jack Grealish seemed to turn the game with the Three Lions clinically scoring two goals created in the Aston Villa man’s channel.
TALKING POINT - Harry Kane
This is Kane’s England team. It is designed around him – and this system for this game, more than any this tournament. But, for whatever reason, it is not working for Kane or England. The 3-4-3 set up, with Phillips and Rice patrolling deep, allowed room for Kane to dictate. But he didn’t or couldn’t.
Ultimately, he does not look physically there. His lethargy was encapsulated just before he scored: Grealish won a header that – being five yards ahead of the Aston Villa player - Kane should have chased down. He didn’t. It was left to Grealish to chase his own flick on as the England captain dithered.
The Tottenham player would get his goal but Southgate will hope that kicks him into gear because, make no mistake, he is out of sorts.
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Pickford - 8 - Has very rarely carried his sometimes erratic club form to the international scene. Made an excellent save from Werner just past the half hour mark, and commanded his box with authority.
Trippier - 7 - The former Tottenham player has had a sterling season in La Liga with Atleti, and was solid again here while also offering a threat going forward.
Walker – 8 - The full-back-cum-centre-half has had a standout tournament for England, and was again excellent. He did a brilliant job of negating the threat of Timo Werner and his anticipation was excellent on the odd occasion there was a defensive slip from a colleague.
Stones – 7 - After a shaky start from the Three Lions, the Man City centre-half took responsibility to set in motion a series of attacks from deep, and was solid defensively all match.
Maguire – 8 - Has improved England on both sides of the ball since his return, evidenced in the first half when he nicked the ball from Muller and then set in motion a counter-attack. The Manchester United centre-half was dominant throughout
Shaw – 7 - He was stout defensively against Joshua Kimmich. England – generally - struggle to create down their left. They favour right and Shaw was, at times, in acres of space but with little sight of the ball for large swathes of the match. The introduction of Grealish brought more focus down that channel and those two combined to create Sterling’s goal.
Rice - 6 - Picked up an early - but necessary - yellow, and then walked that tightrope from 10 minutes gone. His play was inhibited from there, and that was sub-optimal considering England had intended to dominate the midfield.
Phillips - 7 - Nicknamed the 'Yorkshire Pirlo' for his graceful ball-playing from deep. However, the Leeds United player put in some challenges of heft to set the tone for England.
Saka - 6 - The Arsenal man made his intentions clear when afforded the opportunity to run at Toni Rudiger. He was direct and inventive and Germany clearly saw him as a threat. His influence waned as the match wore on and he was subbed. He has a bright international future.
Sterling – 7 – The Manchester City man delivered again. Four games, three goals. He was again not at his effective best but he has emerged as England’s talisman. A loose pass moments later resulted in Thomas Muller missing a gilt edged chance, which was illustrative of his match. However, he delivered as he tends to do for Southgate.
Kane – 6 - The Tottenham forward, for a myriad of reasons, was not been at his best in the group stage, and had to wait until the 20th minute for his first touch of the game, and finished the first half with just nine touches. There was an improvement in the second half and he got a goal. However, he must improve if England have designs on winning the tournament.
Grealish – 7 - Changed the game. The ball is drawn to him. It was no surprise that both goals came from the channel that he dominated.
Henderson - 6 – Introduced as a calming influence after England took a two-goal lead. The Liverpool captain did exactly what was asked of him.
Football is a results-driven business. England won. They are into the quarter-finals and they are yet to get fully in their stride? There are substantial issues for Southgate to address – namely, how to get the best from Harry Kane?
However, that is four games, four goals and none conceded. Southgate has built a rugged, resolute team. It is a solid base to build from and as both goals showed England are capable of attacking with pace and guile.
They have grown as the tournament has worn on and in Sterling they have a reliable source of goals.
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