England made it two wins in the space of five days as the Three Lions beat Costa Rica 2-0 at Elland Road thanks to goals from Manchester-born forwards Marcus Rashford and Danny Welbeck.
Gareth Southgate continued to deploy a 3-5-2 system, a formation he is likely to use in England’s first World Cup game against Tunisia a week on Monday.
The England head coach made ten changes to the team who started the game against Nigeria on Saturday, meaning he’s had the opportunity to look at all his 23-man squad ahead of the World Cup.
It may have been a walk in the park for England, but it was a vibrant performance full of energy as Southgate’s men overran their Central American opponents.
England fans will be generally satisfied with the way the last two years have gone since their catastrophic Euro 2016 exit at the hands of Iceland.
Here, MM reviews last night’s game between England and Costa Rica, highlighting five things we learned.
1. Marcus Rashford is a serious contender to start in Russia
After scoring a delightful goal and turning in a man of the match performance, Rashford is fresh and raring to go ahead of the Tunisia game in Volgograd.
The Manchester United striker unleashed a rocket from 25 yards in the first half, a shot which flew past three-time Champions League winner Keylor Navas of Real Madrid in the Costa Rica goal.
He was also involved in the build-up to Welbeck’s goal, threading a killer pass through to Dele Alli who set up the Arsenal man for his 16th England goal – the most of any of the current squad.
Although his strike partner for the night Jamie Vardy was largely quiet, Rashford thrived in the 3-5-2 system, his runs in behind and in the channels caused problems for the Costa Rica defenders.
Costa Rica only conceded two goals in five matches at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and were denied a semi-final spot as the Netherlands beat them on penalties, but last night the movement of Rashford asked serious questions of a team who adopt a safety-first approach.
Tunisia and Panama, England’s first two World Cup opponents, are likely to adopt a similar approach, and Rashford’s runs could be key to creating holes in the defence.
2. Wing-backs provide a good outlet
With Kyle Walker’s position firmly cemented on the right side of a back three, Southgate has good options in the wing-back areas which is a strong point in the squad.
Off the back of impressive seasons at club level, Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young delivered solid performances against Nigeria on Saturday, and following this Southgate decided to pass on duties to Trent Alexander-Arnold and Danny Rose.
The 2017/18 season was certainly a journey for Alexander-Arnold, who played a key role in Liverpool’s run to the 2017/18 Champions League final. His performances earned him a place in England’s 23-man squad, and if he continues to display the energy and maturity he showed against Costa Rica, he’s doing his chances of appearing at the World Cup no harm.
On the opposite flank, Rose, who has had problems both on and off the pitch in the past year, also delivered a good performance and provided a good outlet for his team.
In the 3-5-2 system, the wing-backs are vital to the team as they are required to provide the width going forward while maintaining their defensive duties.
This is something which Alexander-Arnold and Rose did to a good standard against Costa Rica, and can be relied upon if Southgate called upon their services in Russia.
3. England have pace in abundance
It’s a quality of most great international teams, and England have it.
Pace can cause problems to any defence, and this is a quality England have which can help them potentially go far in Russia should they use it right.
As discussed, the runs of Rashford along with the energetic wing-backs gave England pace both up top and in wide areas.
Fabian Delph and Ruben Loftus-Cheek added further energy to the team, while Walker adds pace to the backline – pace which will be important in making recovery tackles.
Alli and Welbeck, who combined for England’s second goal, also fit the high-energy approach England will be looking to play with at the World Cup.
This youthful, vibrant side still have a lot to learn, but they also have qualities which can cause problems to even the best teams at the tournament should they meet later in the competition.
4. Poor quality opponents
Costa Rica advanced through to the World Cup in second place in CONCACAF, finishing second behind Mexico and three points in front of England’s group G opponents Panama.
On the evidence of last night’s performance, though, Costa Rica will find it very difficult to repeat their heroics of 2014 when they reached the quarter-finals.
Los Ticos are in the same group as pre-tournament favourites Brazil along with European nations Switzerland and Serbia – both of whom impressed in UEFA qualifying.
If they are to advance from this group, Costa Rica must improve on last night’s performance against England.
The Three Lions played a high-energy game and kept possession well, two things their opponents failed to do.
Costa Rica may have only had 37 percent of the ball, but when they had it they failed to make it count and didn’t look like the water-tight defensive unit they were at the 2014 World Cup where they topped a group containing Uruguay, Italy and of course England.
When the two sides last met, they played out a 0-0 draw in Belo Horizonte in what was a dead rubber final game in England’s World Cup journey.
Costa Rica were a better team than England four years ago, but four years on it looks as though the tables have turned.
5. Football’s coming home
In the last 40 years, England may have been lacking on the pitch but off it they certainly aren’t – they have the best fans in the world.
At Elland Road last night, England’s passionate fans were chanting their iconic Euro 1996 anthem “Football’s Coming Home.”
All 32 nations are excited, but when the World Cup comes around nobody is more raring to go than the English supporters.
Carrying the weight of the nation on their shoulders once again on football’s grandest of stages, the world will be watching and a united England will be behind them all the way.
Image courtesy of England via YouTube, with thanks.