Jacob Steinberg on 16 November 2018
Lingard caps comeback with goal
On a night when England fielded their least experienced side in 38 years, nobody epitomised the hunger in this young squad more than Jesse Lingard. After missing last month’s win over Spain with a groin injury, the Manchester United midfielder was desperate to make a strong impression and he did not take long to make his mark against the USA, setting the hosts on their way to a comfortable win with a brilliant opening goal in the 25th minute. As the competition for places in midfield grows ever more fierce, it was pleasing for Gareth Southgate to see Lingard rise to the challenge and seize the initiative with an effective display in the final third.
Sancho adds substance to his reputation
There was no chance of Jadon Sancho freezing on his first start for England. The Borussia Dortmund winger relished the opportunity to reach into his box of tricks and run at a bewildered DeAndre Yedlin, who found it tough to contain the youngster’s explosive talent. Sancho’s dizzying footwork, speed and intelligent movement caught the eye and the 18-year-old showed that substance accompanies his stylish play when he released Trent Alexander-Arnold for England’s second goal. He delayed the final pass until the right moment and that allowed the overlapping Alexander-Arnold to rip his shot past Brad Guzan. It is hard not to buy into the hype on this evidence.
Bournemouth’s Wilson an instant hit
Given that Callum Wilson was making his international debut after recovering from two serious knee injuries, perhaps it was not a surprise that the Bournemouth striker refused to let a couple of missed opportunities affect him. The 26-year-old’s success has been all about persistence and although he was guilty of fluffing his lines on a couple of occasions, he refused to hide and eventually earned his reward when he skipped to the near post to convert Fabian Delph’s cross midway through the second half. It was a special moment for Wilson and he can also be proud of how he linked with his new teammates. Forwards have to offer more than goals in the modern game and Wilson did more than enough to suggest that he can provide useful cover for Harry Kane after Jamie Vardy’s retirement from international football.
Dunk makes nervous debut
If there was a disappointment for Southgate, it was that Lewis Dunk struggled to allay concerns that he is not cut out for international football. The Brighton defender looked nervy on his debut – he sent one simple pass out for a throw-in – and was indebted to Jordan Pickford for bailing him out when his error allowed Christian Pulisic to run through on goal when the game was goalless. While England’s lack of depth in central defence has forced Southgate to give opportunities to players from less fashionable clubs, the manager might look elsewhere next time. Dunk’s vulnerabilities would have been punished by better opponents.
USA weaknesses are clear to see
There were few positives as far as the USA were concerned. Dave Sarachan’s side, who are still reeling from their embarrassing failure to qualify for the World Cup, were comprehensively outplayed and fortunate that England restricted themselves to three goals. There were sporadic bursts from Pulisic, the gifted Dortmund forward, but the visitors rarely troubled Southgate’s side. Timothy Weah – son of the Milan and Liberia great, George Weah – made little impact against Alexander-Arnold on the left and it was damage limitation by the end. These are transitional times for a bruised squad. They will have to be patient.