While England might have landed themselves a 1-0 victory against Austria on Wednesday night, Gareth Southgate’s side failed to lay down the marker that they would have been hoping for in the North East.
Electing to hand an extended break to last weekend’s Champions League finalists, Bukayo Saka’s first senior international goal 10 minutes after the restart was enough to come past a nervy night away from Wembley.
With neither Jordan Henderson nor Harry Maguire featuring, we have taken a look at five big talking points after Wednesday’s meeting at the Riverside.
Plenty for Southgate to ponder
Although Southgate might have stated after Wednesday’s victory that he was largely impressed with his side’s first performance since the end of March, it didn’t quite go as the 50-year-old had hoped.
With many confused by Jesse Lingard’s selection from the start, despite being omitted from Southgate’s 26-man squad 24 hours before, The Whites failed to find any real fluidity in the first-half and often cut a frustrated figure.
With Harry Kane dropping incredibly deep and missing his only clear-cut chance after half an hour, England struggled to find another dimension against an Austria side that were last seen getting hit for four by Denmark.
Although The Three Lions might have clawed themselves over the finish line in the North East, Southgate will be hoping for a far more fluid display when they face off against Bulgaria on Sunday in their final friendly.
Austria lack a clinical edge
With Austria boss Franco Foda declaring that he planned on “upsetting” England on Wednesday night, there is no doubt that his side certainly frustrated the hosts, especially in the opening 45 minutes.
Putting in a rugged display and offering England only a handful of half-chances before Saka’s winner 10 minutes after the restart, The Reds were desperate for a number nine who could spearhead their late flurry.
Missing former West Ham forward Marko Arnautović at the Riverside, Augsburg striker Michael Gregoritsch missed two wonderful chances with his head in the final few moments and underlined what was a toothless display in the North East.
While Leipzig star Marcel Sabitzer did rattle Jordan Pickford’s bar with a looping effort and forcing the Everton keeper into a smart save with 10 minutes to go, Austria couldn’t find a clinical edge.
Injury heartbreak for Trent?
After stealing all of the headlines when it was finally announced he would be in Southgate’s 26-man squad, many were excited to see Trent Alexander-Arnold back in an England shirt for the first time in 2021.
Controversially omitted from March’s World Cup qualifiers, the Liverpool right-back was given the nod in the North East on Wednesday night and was one of only a handful of players who Southgate chose to leave on after his flurry of subs at the hour mark.
However, in what appears to be real heartbreak for the 22-year-old, Alexander-Arnold signaled to come off with just a few minutes remaining with a suspected thigh issue. Appearing in some distress and seen being assisted down the tunnel, Southgate faces yet another injury headache with question marks still over both Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson.
Although Alexander-Arnold’s injury scare might be the main talking point after Wednesday’s friendly in Middlesbrough, Jude Bellingham once again showed why he is regarded as one of Europe’s hottest properties.
Given his first international start and playing alongside Declan Rice in the heart of England’s midfield, the 17-year-old became the youngster player to represent the senior side since Wayne Rooney back in 2003.
With Southgate showing his faith in the Borussia Dortmund starlet and giving him the whole 90 minutes after only making a cameo appearance during March’s World Cup qualifiers, Bellingham certainly proved why he is fully deserving of his spot in The Lions’ 26-man squad.
Mustering 44 appearances out in Germany this year, the former Birmingham prodigy will be hoping to further stake his claim for a starting spot come June 13th.
Grealish or Foden?
Making a timely return for Aston Villa at the back end of the campaign after overcoming a shin injury, Jack Grealish was once again a constant threat at the Riverside and was England’s brightest spark in the final third.
Creating Kane’s chance after 30 minutes with a smart slipped ball, the Villa skipper was heavily targeted by Austria’s defence before being replaced by debutant Ben White with 20 left to play.
Playing a vital role in Saka’s winner 10 minutes after the restart, Grealish’s display on Wednesday will only intensify the debate as to whether he will be handed a starting spot when England open this summer’s Championships on June 13th.
Brushing off the injury worries after being seen with ice on his shins moments after coming off, Southgate could have a real decision on his hands over if he will go with Grealish or Manchester City starlet Phil Foden.
England: Pickford (7), Alexander-Arnold (7), Coady (6.5), Mings (6), Trippier (6.5), Grealish (8), Bellingham (8), Rice (7), Lingard (6.5), Kane (6), Saka (7.5)
Subs: Calvert-Lewin (6.5), Godfrey (5), Ward-Prowse (6.5), Watkins (6.5), White (7)
Austria: Bachmann (7), Lainer (5.5), Dragovic (7), Hinteregger (6), Friedl (7), Alaba (7.5), Schlager (7.5), Laimer (6.5), Sabitzer (8), Kaladzic (6.5)
Subs: Trimmel (6), Grillitsch (6), Baumgartlinger (6), Schöpf (6), Schaub (6.5), Gregoritsch (4)
Goals: Saka 56′
Yellow Cards: England: Alexander-Arnold, Calvert-Lewin – Austria: Hinteregger, Lainer, Schlager
Red Cards: N/A
Referee: Lawrence Visser
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