Liverpool FC: Christmas Crack Me Up Challenge
It was supposed to be a day when the England team finally showed how far they’ve come under Gareth Southgate.
The Three Lions had exceeded all expectations in Russia but, ultimately, as so often in the past, were unable to negotiate that final hurdle.
After the initial disappointment, there was genuine belief that Kane, Alli et al had shown enough for the support to get excited about, and then Spain arrived at Wembley and promptly put paid to all of the positivity.
Luis Enrique, in his first game as Spain coach, will have been delighted with the way that his charges went about their work, particularly after going behind to a wonderful England goal courtesy of Marcus Rashford.
Within a couple of minutes, the party atmosphere had evaporated as Saul slammed home the equaliser after great work out wide from Dani Carvajal.
It was the perfect riposte and led to much fist-pumping on the Spanish bench.
Before half-time, Rodrigo had nipped in ahead of a static England back line and got on the end of Thiago Alcantara’s whipped free-kick to put La Roja in front.
That one move evidenced the gulf in class between the two teams. The visitors, consistently on the front foot, were sharp and alert to every possibility, whilst the hosts ambled around pointing but not moving.
It’s that speed of thought and execution that characterised Enrique’s tenure at Barcelona. The players were different, but the patterns the same. Quicker transitions from front to back, playing in the strikers as often as possible.
What will be of most concern to Southgate is that Spain didn’t really need to work too hard to inflict England’s first defeat at Wembley in 11 years, and their third in a row for the first time since 1988.
They were allowed time and space to play their natural game, and you can’t give players like Sergio Busquets the run of the park. The quiet man’s work was imperious on the night as Enrique’s XI really enjoyed themselves.
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) September 10, 2018
Given the upheaval for Spain on the eve of the World Cup and their own disappointing exit against hosts Russia, it was imperative that they hit the ground running in their UEFA Nations League opener.
There was, as always, room for improvement in certain areas, but by and large there was much to admire.
Perhaps the only real concern for Enrique is that the sun will soon set on the careers of some more of La Roja’s ‘golden era’ players, but on this evidence, those coming through will be just fine.