England’s crushing UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying win over Montenegro will be memorable for a number of reasons.
England’s 1,000th international was won by a terrific margin by the nation’s youngest senior team since 1959. Captain Harry Kane scored a first-half hat-trick without breaking a sweat, and England cantered to top spot in Group A.
Tammy Abraham scored his first senior England goal. James Maddison came on as a substitute to win his first cap in the easiest of circumstances, while Raheem Sterling looked on from the rafters after a week that won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
This Wembley win will also go down in history as the breakout international performance of Maddison’s Leicester City colleague Ben Chilwell. The left back laid on three of England’s goals but it was his overall display that most impressed.
Chilwell oozed confidence. He trusted his every touch, even the occasional high degree of difficulty never sowing a doubt. He was as classy and as effective on the ball as anyone on the field and was a constant menace to admittedly poor opposition.Embed from Getty Images
22-year-old Chilwell could be England’s first choice for a decade and his strutting performance against Montenegro in November 2019 was the match that cast that future.
Each of England’s seven goals was enjoyable in its own right.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain took the ball in sensational stride and blasted England ahead before two fabulous Kane headers ended Montenegro’s meagre resistance with just 24 minutes played.
The peak of Marcus Rashford’s effervescent evening was the excellent turn and strike to make it 4-0 on the half-hour mark, and Kane’s tremendous balance and clever finish made it 5-0 long before half time.
The second half lacked urgency and intensity. It was the kind of half that gives supporters a tiny pang of disappointment despite the obviously satisfactory scoreline. England should – and easily could – have scored ten.
The sixth eventually arrived courtesy of a scuffed Mason Mount shot that Aleksandar Šofranac crashed in off his own crossbar.
England have now benefited from 54 own goals, one more than the tally of record goalscorer Wayne Rooney. Not many of the previous 53 were as emphatic as this one.
Goal number seven was made by Jadon Sancho and converted by Abraham, whose movement across his marker and prodded finish will have been familiar to the supporters who watch him regularly.Embed from Getty Images
And so it was that Mount and Sancho were instrumental in two of England’s goals despite being the home team’s weakest players on the night.
The Chelsea midfielder did little wrong aside from one sloppy pass in the first half but the game passed him by as England dominated Montenegro on the flanks either side of him.
Sancho was a long way short of his best just as he had been in his previous game, Borussia Dortmund’s loss to Bayern Munich.
He was said to be a fitness doubt before that match but he started for Dortmund and then for England, so his contribution against Montenegro must be judged on its own merits. He’s much better than he showed at Wembley.
These are young players, though, and dips are inevitable. There’s no cause for concern with either of them but Sancho has the distinct look of a player who needs a breather.
It was an otherwise slick effort from Gareth Southgate’s men.
There were one or two moments when the defence collectively should have done much better but there was a noticeable lack of messing around on the ball from John Stones and Harry Maguire, a pairing familiar with the practice.
In midfield, Harry Winks had a very fine match on the ball and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made a mockery of question marks over his ability to nail down a position.
As the television commentary noted during the first half, if this 4-3-3 is the system England take into the European Championships next summer then Oxlade-Chamberlain is a handsome fit for the right side of the midfield three.Embed from Getty Images
Oxlade-Chamberlain might have taken a step outside his limbo but England remain resolutely in theirs.
There’s no doubt this qualifying group has lacked meaningful competition and England have qualified with a match to spare, scoring 33 goals in seven matches.
It tells us little about their potency when it comes to turning around their record against teams that expect to beat them, against the true contenders when it comes to actually winning a tournament.
The warm-up matches between now and June should give us much more of an indication of England’s true capabilities.