Welcome to the World Cup, England. Despite the optimism encouraged by Iran’s opening 6-2 defeat, a nagging doubt remained that the result said more about the opposition than about Gareth Southgate’s team.
That seems to be the case after this morally sapping bust against an American team that outplayed them all over the field. England were below par everywhere except in the center of their defense where Harry Maguire was excellent and just had to be.
The Manchester United defender appeared to be holding the top of his left hamstring after a late tackle and we must all hope it was nothing more than a touch of cramp. Strange as it may seem after everything that has happened to him lately, Maguire suddenly seems fundamental to Southgate’s team.
England was put back on the ground against the USA on Friday with a 0-0 defeat
Elsewhere, this was a sobering experience for England. After a shot from Harry Kane was blocked in the tenth minute, England was only in danger of the American goal again in stoppage time. Meanwhile, the US probably would have won had they had a key striker.
In the middle of the American midfield, Tyler Adams of Leeds United led the show, eclipsing acclaimed midfield pair Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham. Bellingham, still a teenager, cannot be expected to be flawless every time he plays. But to see him go off for Jordan Henderson with over 15 minutes to play said a lot about the way the night had gone for Southgate’s side in that part of the pitch.
Jude Bellingham struggled in midfield after his excellent performance against Iran
If England want to penetrate deep into this league, they need to be effective in that central area. Here, in the sprawling Al Bayt Stadium, they looked rudderless and lost. Strangest of all, England looked leggy.
Rice is an understated and often overlooked star of this England team. The West Ham captain rarely lets England down and he didn’t necessarily do so here.
But the truth is that he and his young partner were outsmarted by American midfield. Where the US central players had energy, drive and intelligence, England seemed to have a pace and a lack of ideas.
After last Monday’s win, this was a return to the soporific fayre served up during a dismal Nations League campaign and if it were to happen again against a more brutal opponent, England will be home for more of the Christmas break than they ever imagined. .
The 19-year-old was targeted by the US and grew frustrated as the game progressed
Southgate had also warned his players. He repeatedly said after the game against Iran that it would be different. He’d seen how America had put pressure on Wales when they had possession, how they hadn’t been afraid to put pressure on good players when they had the ball.
This was exactly what they did here. And on the occasions when they won the ball they were quick to overload the wide areas and create chances to deliver the ball into the England penalty area.
Bellingham in particular was distressed by the American midfield. American coach Gregg Berhalter, admired by Southgatre, had clearly identified the young midfielder as the player who is increasingly making England tick with his speed and range of passing. Here Bellingham had hardly any room for maneuver.
Declan Rice spent a lot of time in defensive areas due to the flow of the game
Rice’s game is different. He sits slightly deeper than his midfield partner, part shield for England’s central defense and part instigator of attacking moves from deep positions. Here he had no choice but to spend too much time picking up defensive pieces.
The tenacious midfield player of a team is becoming an increasingly important role. It’s not necessarily a defensive job. If played well, it is a position from which much of what a team does in the future can begin. As such, it requires awareness, peripheral vision, and the ability to set pace and rhythm.
Rice is doing great for club and country. But here he was stifled by the disjointed nature of English football and forced by the course of the game to spend too much time in his own defensive third.
Harry Maguire was excellent at centre-back, looking after the defense and dominating in the air
A player who was once a center back and may one day play there again, he has a defender’s natural instinct when it comes to sniffing out danger. Sometimes he was barely a few feet away from Stones and Maguire here and that spoke volumes.
England remains in charge of this group. If they beat what should be a pretty demoralized Wales team on Tuesday they will go through as group winners. If we’re being generous, we might surmise that this may have been a factor behind Southgate’s relatively conservative use of substitutions.
As for the USA, they were the better side in games against Wales and England and only have two points and one goal to offer. They are behind Iran now, but we can expect that to change once the two teams meet next week.
Leeds midfielder Tyler Adams impressed in mid-park for the USA
It was interesting to see Adams play so well. He is an important part of the team at Leeds and did not play with the poor discipline typical of Jesse Marsch’s side here.
For a period in the second half of the game, the US were so superior it was surprising. The more generous spectator might say this was the kind of training England needed.
Others would say it just gave way too many reasons why this England team won’t win the World Cup.