It was far from the most inspiring performance but at least England gained a victory as they look to build some momentum before Euro 2020.
Bukayo Saka grabbed the winner as Gareth Southgate’s side beat Austria 1-0 in the first of two warm-up friendlies behind played at Middlesbrough this week.
And it was far from a full-strength England side with players from Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs given a break after playing in European finals with their clubs last week.
Bukayo Saka scored the winning goal as England beat Austria in a friendly on Wednesday
The Arsenal man slotted home from a tight angle after Jack Grealish had been blocked off
Gareth Southgate still has plenty to mull over with the tournament just over a week away
So there should be much more to come from Southgate’s team but the manager’s main worries concern injury and fitness issues affecting a number of important players.
We take a look at what we learned from Wednesday night’s friendly on Teesside.
England’s injury and fitness issues run deep
There’s always one or two injury worries with England ahead of a tournament but after the most demanding of seasons, the fitness issues are piling up.
It was heartbreaking to see Trent Alexander-Arnold limping off the field late on at the Riverside Stadium with the lip-readers deployed to try and decipher what the Liverpool defender was uttering to the physios.
The ITV commentators seemed to think he said ‘it’s gone’ as Alexander-Arnold held his thigh but we await news of the extent of the injury. Southgate didn’t sound too optimistic afterwards.
After all the fuss over whether he would make the 26-man squad, his place is now hanging by a thread but Alexander-Arnold isn’t the only one.
It didn’t look good for Trent Alexander-Arnold as a groin injury forced him off the field late on
Jack Grealish, not long back from a shin injury, took plenty of kicks from the Austrian side
Sunday Friendly vs Romania in Middlesbrough
June 13 Euro 2020 opener vs Croatia at Wembley
June 18 Second group game vs Scotland at Wembley
June 22 Final group game vs Czech Republic at Wembley
Austria’s robust approach led to Jack Grealish taking a few deliberate kicks and having not long returned from a shin problem, he needed ice packs after being substituted.
That’s before we even get to Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson, who hasn’t played since February because of a groin injury and has only just returned to training, and Manchester United defender Harry Maguire, only just running again after an ankle injury.
Southgate had planned to involve Henderson on Wednesday night but left him on the bench as a precaution. Kalvin Phillips, who suffered a shoulder injury on the final day of the season, also wasn’t risked off the bench.
Given that at least four of those players would probably be in Southgate’s first choice XI, it’s an alarming situation with the tournament opener against Croatia just a week-and-a-half away.
It was all inevitable, really. These players have been through the most intense season of their careers – the Premier League started a month later than usual and they’ve been playing non-stop ever since to squeeze it all in.
Bodies are breaking down, energy levels have almost evaporated and the sluggish England display against Austria was the natural consequence.
Each of the 24 teams at the Euros is in the same boat, of course, but it really doesn’t bode well for a thriller of a tournament.
Jordan Henderson isn’t long back in training after his injury struggles in recent months
Lingard might get his chance after all
When Bukayo Saka was dumped on the turf in the opening minutes and required treatment, the ITV director cheekily cut to Jesse Lingard to gauge his reaction.
Of the seven players cut from Southgate’s 33-man provisional squad, Lingard could consider himself the most unfortunate after his uplifting second half of the season on loan at West Ham.
Lingard certainly wouldn’t want one of his fellow professionals to pick up an injury before the tournament but he’d be first in line to benefit if a vacancy in the squad came up.
He didn’t make the 26-man squad but injuries may mean Jesse Lingard will get his chance
UEFA have changed the rules – mainly on account of Covid-19 worries – to allow ill or injured members of a squad to be replaced up until a team’s first game at the Euros.
Given the extent of England’s injury worries already mentioned, Lingard may want to keep his phone switched on.
Southgate would surely call him up if Grealish or Henderson was forced to make way and even to replace Alexander-Arnold given the much-discussed surplus of right-backs.
Lingard would surely be called up to the squad if someone dropped out through injury
England are blessed at the moment with plenty of exciting attacking players who can make their mark on a match.
Lingard is another of those and he’s in better form at the moment than some of the others. He may yet get his chance to shine.
Southgate desperate to get winners back
England were without the likes of Raheem Sterling, Mason Mount, Marcus Rashford, Phil Foden, Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell for the Austria game.
The players from Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United who featured in European finals last week have been given a little bit of time off before the rigours of the tournament.
And their influence was certainly missed as England struggled to create a great deal against opponents who were content to sit back and offered little themselves.
Chelsea trio Reece James, Ben Chilwell and Mason Mount were rested after Saturday’s final
Manchester City’s Phil Foden was also missed as England struggled to break Austria down
England were crying out for a skilled defensive lock-picked like Foden or Mount to supply Harry Kane, who was starved of service for most of the evening.
Rashford and Sterling haven’t been in the greatest of form and were adequately compensated for by Saka and Grealish, two of the better performers, but it was still a struggle.
If anything, it confirmed that Southgate must find a way of accommodating both Mount and Foden into whichever set-up he goes with.
England will be so much more threatening and effective for the presence of these two young, exciting, technically-brilliant players who come into the tournament in peak form.
Bellingham makes a strong case
Food for thought for Southgate came from the strong performance of 17-year-old Jude Bellingham in midfield. His display certainly nudged him up the pecking order even if injuries may do that anyway.
The Borussia Dortmund man will obviously see many more tournaments but Southgate clearly views him as useful for the here and now.
Bellingham plays with an assurance and maturity that makes you easily forget he’s barely old enough to take driving lessons and can’t even vote.
Jude Bellingham, who impressed for England, celebrates Bukayo Saka’s second-half winner
The 17-year-old midfielder squares up to Austria’s Xaver Schlager during an assured display
His chief contribution was to pinch the ball away from Marco Friedl to start the move that led to Saka’s winner in the 57th-minute.
Afterwards, Southgate described Bellingham as a ‘future captain for whatever team he is playing in’ and a long and hopefully successful England career awaits him.
If Henderson’s injury issues persist, will Southgate be brave enough to start Bellingham in the No 8 role? The teenager has offered plenty of persuasion so far.
Trippier shows his versatility
There was an irony in England having four right-backs and no recognised left-back for Wednesday night’s match with Shaw and Chilwell putting their feet up.
But Southgate has long trusted Kieran Trippier and the Atletico Madrid man didn’t let him down on the other side of defence.
In so doing, Trippier did his chances of being the go-to right-back during the tournament no harm at all.
He will have to compete with Kyle Walker, Reece James and Alexander-Arnold (if he makes it) but you sense Trippier will be Southgate’s top pick.
Kieran Trippier didn’t put a foot wrong in the unfamiliar left-back position against Austria