It was far from the most inspiring achievement, but at least England secured a win as they looked to build momentum for Euro 2020.
Bukayo Saka took the winner as Gareth Southgate’s side defeated Austria 1-0 in the first of two friendly warm-ups to be played at Middlesbrough this week.
And it was far from a full England squad with players from Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs taking a break after playing with their clubs in the European finals last week.
Friday 11 June
Saturday June 12
Sunday 13 June
Bukayo Saka scored the winning goal on Wednesday when England defeated Austria in a friendly match
The Arsenal man shot home from a tight angle after Jack Grealish was blocked
Gareth Southgate still has plenty to think about with the tournament just over a week away
So there should be a lot more to come from Southgate’s team, but the manager’s main concerns are injuries and fitness issues affecting a number of key players.
We take a look at what we learned from Wednesday night’s friendly on Teesside.
England’s injury and fitness problems run deep
There are always one or two injury concerns with England ahead of a tournament, but after the most demanding seasons, fitness problems pile up.
It was heartbreaking to see Trent Alexander-Arnold stumble off the field late at Riverside Stadium with the lip readers deployed to try to decipher what the Liverpool defender was saying to the physiotherapists.
The ITV commentators seemed to think he said ‘it’s gone’ as Alexander-Arnold held onto his thigh, but we’re waiting for news on the extent of the injury. Southgate didn’t sound too optimistic afterwards.
After all the fuss over whether he would make the 26-man squad, his place is now hanging by a thread, but Alexander-Arnold is not alone.
Things didn’t look good for Trent Alexander-Arnold as a leg injury forced him off the field late
Jack Grealish, not long back from a shin injury, got a lot of kicks from the Austrian side
Sunday Friendly vs Romania in Middlesbrough
June 13th Euro 2020 opener vs Croatia at Wembley
June 18 Second group match vs Scotland at Wembley
June 22 Last group match vs Czech Republic at Wembley
Austria’s robust approach led to Jack Grealish taking a few deliberate kicks and not long coming back from a shin problem, he needed ice packs after he was substituted.
That’s before we even get to Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson, who has not played since February due to a groin injury and has only just returned to training, and Manchester United defender Harry Maguire, who is only just getting back on track after an ankle injury.
Southgate had planned to bring Henderson in on Wednesday night, but left him on the bench as a precaution. Kalvin Phillips, who suffered a shoulder injury on the last day of the season, didn’t get off the bench either.
Given that at least four of those players would likely be in Southgate’s first-choice XI, it’s an alarming situation with the tournament opener against Croatia just a week and a half away.
It was actually all inevitable. These players have had the most intense season of their careers – the Premier League kicked off a month later than usual and they’ve been playing non-stop ever since to get it all in.
Bodies are breaking down, energy levels have all but evaporated and England’s slow showing against Austria was the natural result.
Each of the 24 teams at the European Championship is of course in the same boat, but it doesn’t bode well for a thriller of a tournament.
Jordan Henderson won’t be back in training for long after his injuries over the past few months
Lingard might get his chance after all
When Bukayo Saka was dumped on the grass in the first few minutes and had to be treated, the ITV director cut brutally at Jesse Lingard to gauge his reaction.
Of the seven players dropped from Southgate’s 33-man provisional roster, Lingard could call himself the unhappiest after his uplifting second half of the season on loan to West Ham.
Lingard certainly wouldn’t want any of his fellow professionals to get injured before the tournament, but he would be first in line to take advantage if a vacancy opens up in the squad.
He didn’t make the 26-man squad, but injuries could mean Jesse Lingard gets his chance zijn
UEFA has changed the rules – mainly due to Covid-19 concerns – to allow sick or injured members of a squad to be replaced until a team’s first game at the European Championship.
Given the magnitude of England’s injury concerns already mentioned, Lingard may want to keep his phone switched on.
Southgate would certainly call him if Grealish or Henderson were forced to give way and even replace Alexander-Arnold, given the much-discussed surplus of right-backs.
Lingard would definitely be called up to the squad if someone dropped out due to injury
England are currently blessed with plenty of exciting attacking players who can put their stamp on a game.
Lingard is one of those and he is in better shape than some of the others right now. Maybe he’ll still get his chance to shine.
Southgate desperate to get winners back
England were without players like Raheem Sterling, Mason Mount, Marcus Rashford, Phil Foden, Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell for the match in Austria.
The Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United players who made it to the European finals last week have been given some time off from the rigors of the tournament.
And their influence was certainly missed as England struggled to create much against opponents who were content to sit back and offer little themselves.
Chelsea trio Reece James, Ben Chilwell and Mason Mount rested after Saturday’s final
Manchester City’s Phil Foden was also missed as England struggled to tear down Austria
England clamored for an experienced player like Foden or Mount to supply Harry Kane, who had been starving for most of the evening.
Rashford and Sterling were not in the best shape and were sufficiently compensated by Saka and Grealish, two of the better players, but it was still a struggle.
In any case, it confirmed that Southgate must find a way to accommodate both Mount and Foden in whichever lineup he chooses.
England will be so much more menacing and effective for the presence of these two young, exciting, technically brilliant players entering the tournament in top form.
Bellingham makes a strong case
Food for thought for Southgate came from 17-year-old Jude Bellingham’s strong midfield performance. His display certainly pushed him into the pecking order, even if injuries might do so anyway.
The Borussia Dortmund man will of course see many more tournaments, but Southgate clearly sees him as useful for the here and now.
Bellingham plays with a self-assurance and maturity that makes it easy to forget that he’s barely old enough to take driving lessons and can’t even vote.
Jude Bellingham, who impressed for England, celebrates second half winner of Bukayo Saka
The 17-year-old midfielder takes on Austrian Xaver Schlager in a confident display
His main contribution was to pinch the ball away from Marco Friedl to start the move that led to Saka’s winner in the 57th minute.
Afterwards, Southgate described Bellingham as a ‘future captain for whatever team he plays for’ and a long and hopefully successful career in England awaits him.
If Henderson’s injury problems continue, will Southgate be brave enough to start Bellingham in the number 8 role? The teen has offered a lot of persuasion so far.
Trippier shows his versatility
There was an irony in England with four right-backs and no recognized left-back for Wednesday night’s game with Shaw and Chilwell holding their feet up.
But Southgate has long trusted Kieran Trippier and the Atletico Madrid man did not let him down on the other side of the defence.
With that, Trippier didn’t hurt his chances of being the go-to right-back during the tournament at all.
He will have to compete with Kyle Walker, Reece James and Alexander-Arnold (if he makes it), but you feel Trippier will be Southgate’s best choice.
Kieran Trippier didn’t put a foot wrong in the unknown left back position against Austria