Eng­land can build around mid­field­ers

> Ster­ling and Lal­lana show why they ex­cel and how im­por­tant they will be over the rest of the cam­paign

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS - BY JACK PITT-BROOKE

ENG­LAND’S best goal in their 3-0 win over Scot­land on Fri­day was their sec­ond, killing the Scot­tish re­sis­tance at the start of the sec­ond half, with a move started and ended by their twin brains, their two best play­ers on the night.

Ra­heem Ster­ling had the ball out on the left, waited, and rolled it out to Danny Rose on the over­lap. Rose drove in the cross where it was met by Adam Lal­lana, bound­ing for­ward, angling his body to score the header with gym­nas­tic skill.

It was a goal that summed up Eng­land’s evening, nifty and pre­cise, and the con­tri­bu­tions of Ster­ling and Lal­lana them­selves, the two best play­ers out in white. This game was a clear demon­stra­tion of which play­ers are part of Eng­land’s fu­ture, but a warn­ing of who may not be. There was most of a good per­for­mance here, and the sketched out­line of Gareth South­gate’s

Eng­land con­tained real prom­ise. But not ev­ery part was played by the right man.

This was the same nar­row 4-2-3-1 that South­gate played in his first two games, a mod­ern ap­proach, with pushed-up full-backs and a ro­tat­ing front four, that most in­ter­na­tional teams play these days. The men on ei­ther side of three are not wingers but at­tack­ing mid­field­ers. They do not stay wide and cross, but come in­side, link and push.

But of those three, Ster­ling, Lal­lana and Rooney, there was no ques­tion which two are likely to be in Rus­sia in two years’ time, and who may be strug­gling. Or which two are vi­tal to their ti­tle-chas­ing teams, and which man has been rel­e­gated to the bench for a side al­ready play­ing catch-up.

Ster­ling and Lal­lana showed why they are the men to build around now. This was an in­tel­li­gent dan­ger­ous per­for­mance from Ster­ling, one that showed both his abil­ity on the ball but also his in­stincts with­out it. He knows to find space, and when Eng­land’s tempo dropped in the mid­dle of the first half Ster­ling picked it up again. He forced con­sec­u­tive free­kicks, the first from the right, the sec­ond from the cen­tre.

The next time Ster­ling picked it up in­side, his shot hit Grant Han­ley, fly­ing to Kyle Walker, who made the first goal.

Of course, Ster­ling is not per­fect yet, and only he will know how he did not make it 4-0 in the sec­ond half from two yards out. But it did not let it ef­fect him, and he never stopped driv­ing for­ward, win­ning fouls off tired de­fend­ers.

Lal­lana does not have the same burst as Ster­ling from a stand­ing start. But what he brought was run­ning, not for its own sake ei­ther, but clever self­less run­ning. He started from deep, com­ing back to help out Eric Dier and Jor­dan Hen­der­son when­ever they needed it, which was more than ex­pected. He stormed for­ward when­ever Eng­land won it, giv­ing their counter-at­tacks the im­pe­tus they needed. And he was never afraid of skill on the ball, shuttling away from Ikechi Anya as if he was not there.

This was South­gate’s team, but Jur­gen Klopp’s Adam Lal­lana. He is, ahead of Ster­ling, the best-per­form­ing English­man in the Pre­mier League this sea­son. Here, at Wem­b­ley, he car­ried that form with him. There was once a fear, with Lal­lana, that he was Liver­pool’s new Ste­wart Down­ing, over-pro­moted from a mid-ta­ble team. But he is now play­ing with a mix­ture of en­ergy, skill and speed not many play­ers pos­sess to­gether. No one talks about his £25 mil­lion trans­fer fee any more.

Ster­ling left Liver­pool the sum­mer af­ter Lal­lana ar­rived, go­ing to Manch­ester City for a fee that has also been used tire­somely against him. But he, too, is flour­ish­ing un­der his new coach, just as Pep Guardi­ola promised that he would.

These are two play­ers, at 21 and 28, now play­ing the best foot­ball of their ca­reers. They are at the right clubs, play­ing for the right coaches, com­bin­ing bet­ter for Eng­land than they ever did for Liver­pool. South­gate must know that too, as would any­one at Wem­b­ley on Fri­day night. The rest of this emer­gent team, though, is not quite as sim­ple. – The In­de­pen­dent

REUTERSPIX

Scot­land’s Christophe Berra (2nd L) and Scott Brown (R) in ac­tion with Eng­land’s Ra­heem Ster­ling on Fri­day. –

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