England’s retreat from Moscow has been bathed in the soft light of heroic failure but on Saturday night at Wembley, one harsh blow after another bombarded our World Cup boys of summer, jolted Gareth Southgate and his team out of their reveries of Volgograd, Nizhny Novgorod and the Spartak Stadium and returned them to the brutal realities of the present day.
If that language sounds emotive, it is meant to. England’s summer was all about optimism and rebirth but their opening foray into the newly minted Nations League against Spain was unsettling for more reasons than the mere fact that England were outclassed by a nation that appears to have recovered all its poise after the disarray of its own World Cup campaign.
That was sobering in its own way but the sickening head injury suffered by Luke Shaw in an accidental collision with Dani Carvajal two minutes after half time and the hush that settled over the Wembley crowd as medics crowded round his prone form for six minutes before he was carried away, motionless, on a stretcher, was a grave cause for concern that deflated what was left of the optimism that had accompanied the start of the match.
Rodrigo put Spain 2-1 ahead in the 32nd minute, slotting home from a free-kick after being left unmarked by England.
England (3-5-2): Pickford 6; Gomez 5; Stones 6; Maguire 5.5; Trippier 6; Alli 5; Henderson 5 (Dier 63, 5); Lingard 5; Shaw 7 (Rose 52, 5); Rashford 6.5; Kane 5
Scorers: Rashford 11
Booked: Henderson, Shaw, Stones
Manager: Gareth Southgate 6
Spain (4-3-3): De Gea 7; Carvajal 6; Ramos 7; Nacho 5.5; Alonso 6.5 (Martinez 87); Busquets 7; Saul 7.5; Thiago 8 (Roberto 80); Aspas 6 (Asensio 68, 6); Rodrigo 7.5; Isco 6.5
Goals: Saul 13, Rodrigo 32
Manager: Luis Enrique 7
What does it mean: Southgate must ponder porous defence
England have conceded six goals in their last three games in all competitions and Gareth Southgate will feel Spain were allowed back into the contest far too easily, particularly after Harry Maguire played Rodrigo onside for their second.
Pat on the back: De Gea back to his best
Criticised for his poor shots-to-goals-conceded ratio at the World Cup, De Gea produced a superb save to deny Rashford’s header and preserve Spain’s lead in the 35th minute, giving his defence the confidence to shut England out from then. The keeper was perhaps fortunate referee Danny Makkelie deemed he was fouled by Welbeck before the Arsenal striker tucked home late on.
Boot up the backside: Henderson must learn to relish big games.
After struggling in the World Cup semi-final against Croatia, Jordan Henderson once again failed to rise to the occasion against one of Europe’s best teams and if England are to become a major force he must begin to dictate play from midfield.
England must wait until October to attempt to make up lost ground in the Nations League with games against Croatia and Spain, but before then they face Switzerland in a friendly. Spain, meanwhile, face another group game at home to the World Cup finalists on Tuesday.