Date: 3rd June 2021 at 10:54am
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England kicked off their European Championship preparation in Middlesborough on Wednesday night, limping to a 1-0 victory over a compact and resolute Austrian side.

Captained by Real Madrid arrival David Alaba, Franco Foda’s team set out to disrupt the fringe but free-flowing Three Lions side and did it with great success, limiting the home favourites to just 39% possession and relatively even attacking stats.

Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford will take another clean sheet not too far from his homeland, but the lacklustre performance and result will have done little to inspire Gareth Southgate and the nation, with much tougher tests than the Austrians to come.

That being said, it’s the first game of a long summer camp together and the endeavour and desire of this England squad cannot be called into question.

Players like Jack Grealish are on the road to full fitness and could prove crucial come the advent of the tournament, while others may not be so fortunate – with that in mind, here are some of the top takeaways from the night…

Might be a very different squad after all… 

Will he or won’t he? Was it all a waste of time and thought? After days of nerves and debate about whether Trent Alexander-Arnold would make the cut, he might just have suffered footballing heartbreak of the worst kind. The youngster had to be subbed off after clutching his thigh during a clearance but not before being booked by the referee for re-entering the pitch without permission, in what was a bizarre scenario. The Liverpool man is one of four right-backs in the squad but with the immense quality that he brings from the set-piece scenario, could be a huge loss. Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson are both also battling fitness, as injuries scupper Southgate’s plans.

Trent Alexander Arnold may have made the cut but could still miss out on his European Championship dream this summer

Saka not just there for the ride 

On a more positive note, Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka carved himself a tasty goal to become the 33rd player to notch under Southgate’s management. The versatile youngster was operating in an attacking winger role and finished from an acute angle after a brilliant move involving Jesse Lingard and Jack Grealish. Some may have been surprised at his inclusion and disappointed at those omitted, namely Lingard, but he will have done his reputation no harm grabbing his first international goal aged 19.

Versatile Bukayo Saka has impressed in Arsenal colours this year, scoring five times

Central defence is wholly uninspiring

With the aforementioned injury to Harry Maguire, which seems likely to keep him out of the tournament opener on June 13, there isn’t all that much room for manoeuvre in central defence. Despite the clean sheet, Tyrone Mings was lucky to avoid giving a penalty away for a blatant body check on Sasa Kalajdzic inside the area, while substitute Ben Godfrey almost gave a goal away with his first touch but for Pickford’s concentration, with a strewn pass towards his own net. Ben White also came off the bench and did make a goalline clearance, while Conor Coady looked assured. Also, Kyle Walker and John Stones will be in the mix, with Champions League finalists taking Wednesday night off, and do add depth to the central defence. It looks increasingly likely that, with the resources available, a five-at-the-back could play its part.

England have kept four clean sheets in their last five fixtures

Bellingham becomes the youngest England starter since Rooney (And it showed…)

What a talent Jude Bellingham is. At just 17 years and 338 days old – only Wayne Rooney starting for England at a younger age – he has all the confidence and desire you could hope for, and will be a crucial cog in England squads to come. However, he wasn’t at his rip-roaring best against a negative Austria side. Frequently, Declan Rice, who at only 22 himself showed incredible maturity, found himself backed up with multiple opposition runners after Bellingham had raced up the pitch in an attempt to make something happen. Exactly what you want for the England team, but it was worth noting the occasions that Bellingham left the midfield slightly exposed, and perhaps against a better team it would work out differently. Again, at only 17-years-old, I anticipate Bellingham’s decision-making and positioning to only improve.

Only Wayne Rooney (17 years and 321 days) has started an England match younger than Jude Bellingham

Brighton to glory

A little bit tongue-in-cheek, but after Ben White made his debut and became only the fifth Brighton player to do so, the victory meant another novel and bizarre record comes to light. In the seven games Brighton players have featured for England, the Three Lions have won every single one – it’s the best currently standing 100% record in the England national team. Who else have they got?

Ben White has had back-to-back impressive seasons with Leeds and now Brighton & Hove Albion

 
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