By Akshay Kulkarni (@ImpatientPedant)
England kicked off their World Cup preparation in style as Jesse Lingard’s first international goal ensured they beat the Netherlands for the first time since 1996.
This was also the first time that England have won in Amsterdam since 1969, and it was no more than the Three Lions deserved after a comprehensive performance at the Amsterdam Arena.
England displayed the kind of confidence that has often been absent during previous years, with the Dutch completely out of sorts from the first whistle. Ronald Koeman, the Dutch manager, clearly has a lot of work ahead of him to rebuild this fallen giant. Gareth Southgate on the other hand will be delighted with the showing of his squad, who looked well drilled right from the off.
The match-winner came from Manchester United playmaker Lingard on the hour mark. He was involved in a tidy exchange with Danny Rose down the left, and the left-back’s ball came back to him on the edge of the area. Lingard’s low shot should arguably have been saved by Jeroen Zoet, but the ball eventually wound up in the bottom-left corner.
It was perhaps not the cleanest goal, but England deserved it nonetheless. Their play was direct and fast throughout. Lingard, Raheem Sterling, and Marcus Rashford were key to this, with their incisive running. Rashford should have had a penalty after a clumsy challenge by Matthijs de Ligt after 52 minutes, but the referee waved play on. Kieran Trippier had a fizzing shot saved by Zoet in the 83rd minute, and there was also a good effort from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the first 10 minutes.
Holland, on the other hand, were poor. Former Manchester United winger, Memphis Depay was the only player who showed any kind of initiative. The rest of his teammates simply tried to pump the ball upfield given the opportunity. Jordan Pickford was kept busy in England’s goal, but all his saves were relatively comfortable.
England’s only shaky moments were when they became too comfortable with possession and gave it away to the Dutch. It was otherwise a very confident performance, as shown by Jordan Pickford’s cheeky stepover to beat an opponent in the dying stages of the match.
England started with 3 at the back, a formation Gareth Southgate has indicated he will use at the World Cup. It was initially puzzling to see Kyle Walker, a natural right-back, lined up as a centre-back. As the match began, however, it became clear what Southgate’s strategy was.
The three centre-backs, and Pickford, were able to instigate attacks through rapid passes directly through the Dutch midfield. Jordan Henderson, a much-maligned choice for the captain’s armband, also controlled proceedings in the middle of the park by spreading the play to the wing-backs. It was a very effective strategy, and perhaps one of the more successful plans England have implemented in recent times.
Joe Gomez was initially the third centre-back for England, but had to be replaced within 10 minutes by Leicester’s Harry Maguire. This arguably played to England’s strengths, with Maguire’s runs through midfield often freeing up England attackers. Walker and John Stones were also given this freedom to roam, with Henderson slotting in admirably when they left their post.
All this, meant that Sterling and Rashford could run directly at the three Dutch centre-backs, and especially in the first half they found good positions in the box. The final ball, however, was lacking. England’s best chance in the first half was an effort from Oxlade-Chamberlain on the edge of the box in the 8th minute which was saved comfortably by Zoet. Otherwise, there were only half-chances for the Three Lions. Sterling was almost played through on goal on the half-hour mark, but Zoet came out of his area to clear up.
In the second half, the tireless Rashford went down in the box after a good pass down the right channel. He was clattered in the box by Dutch centre-back de Ligt, but the referee waved play on. It was a clear penalty, and Southgate was very aggrieved. However, he had a smile on his face a few minutes later when Lingard scored from the edge of the area.
After the goal, Holland tried to get back into the game, notably through a Depay scissor-kick in the 72nd minute. All their shots were tame, however, and the Everton goalkeeper was never stretched.
That level of comfort will have pleased Southgate, but there are also concerns. Notably, the frenetic tempo dropped when he took off his three starting forwards, which let Holland see more of the ball. And England occasionally contrived to give the Dutch half-chances because of overplaying at the back, with Bas Dost almost dispossessing Pickford on one occasion.
Nevertheless, it was a very encouraging match, and it will certainly perk up the Three Lions as they began preparations for the Russia World Cup. Their next match is against Italy on Tuesday the 27th.
Holland: Zoet, de Ligt, de Vrij (Weghorst), van Dijk, Hateboer, Wijnaldum, Strootman (van de Beek), Van Aanholt, Promes (Propper), Depay, Dost (Babel).
Unused Subs: Cillessen, Til, Ake, de Roon, Berghuis, Vilhena, Fosu-Mensah, Kluivert.
England: Pickford, Trippier, Walker, Stones, Gomez (Maguire, Dier), Rose, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Henderson, Sterling (Vardy), Rashford (Welbeck), Lingard (Alli).
Unused Subs: Hart, Butland, Mawson, Tarkowski, Livermore, Cook, Lallana, Pope.