Jadon Sancho justifies Gareth Southgate's belief but work remains to guarantee World Cup place

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Jadon Sancho justifies Gareth Southgate's belief but work remains to guarantee World Cup place - REUTERS
Jadon Sancho justifies Gareth Southgate's belief but work remains to guarantee World Cup place - REUTERS

It is often said of Jadon Sancho that he can be a “YouTube” player – a prodigious talent who produces a showreel of tricks and flicks that delights the social media generation.

Well, if that is the case then he delivered another one in the inevitably one-sided procession of a World Cup qualifying win over Andorra. Midway through the first-half Sancho was picked out – yet again – by his old Manchester City academy team-mate Phil Foden, was doubled-up by the defenders down the left-side touchline, but nonchalantly rolled the ball under his studs before nutmegging Rubio Gomez. Sancho skipped through into the penalty area and teed up Bukayo Saka whose shot was blocked.

Okay, this was only against Andorra, ranked 153 places below England who went into this tie with a record against the Three Lions of played five, lost five, conceded 20 and scored none and that mis-match was summed up in the second-half when Sancho tore past 41-year-old substitute Ildefons Lima who appeared to tear his hamstring in forlornly trying to keep up with someone 20 years his junior.

And okay Gomez, his 27-year-old marker, plays for FC Santa Coloma, the Andorran champions, based in a village with a population of just 3,040. But Sancho also knew the pressure was on him. The attention was on him. And if he did not deliver against this kind of meagre opposition then he actually might have been out in the cold with England. Gareth Southgate had added to that pressure. He had warned as much. The England manager admitted Sancho was lucky to make his squad after an indifferent start to his career at Manchester United despite being their £73million summer signing, their marquee arrival before Cristiano Ronaldo came along.

Southgate has spoken to Sancho at length at St George’s Park since England got together early in the week to ascertain his state of mind. The warning signs were there. But fair play to Southgate for sticking with the 21-year-old. There have been signings of Sancho’s confidence growing in his recent performances against Villarreal and Everton but the truth is he has struggled so far this campaign.

So if he was in need of a confidence boost then here it was. Facing Andorra should always represent that opportunity and Sancho grasped it. In fact, this should be the start of Sancho’s season and full marks to Southgate for that. It was not just about nutmegs. Sancho delivered two assists also – one for Ben Chilwell and another for Tammy Abraham – his first this season. And there could have been several more. Indeed when Abraham stretched to reach Sancho’s delivery and poke it into the net in the second-half it was the third inswinging cross the winger had picked him out with.

It was the radar-like contact, though, between Foden and Sancho that was so effective, though, and that was epitomised in England’s opening goal. With time and space Foden picked out Sancho inside the penalty area, after he had run in from the left, and he took a touch before flicking it into Chilwell’s path. How Sancho must delight when Foden is in the same team as him, just as they were when England won the Under-17s World Cup.

In that first-half Sancho created three chances, delivered two accurate crosses and took on his opponent three times – more than any other player – and interestingly did so playing down the left where, it is said, he is less comfortable and that using him there has been a factor in his early season struggles at United.

Talk to people around English football and there are three young players who are regarded as generational talents: 18-year-old Jude Bellingham, Foden, 21, and Sancho. It is Sancho who, at present, has the most convincing to do if he is going to be part of Southgate’s squad, never mind the team, going to next year’s World Cup. There is still work to do.

Sancho impressed, he took his chance against Andorra, but he now has to take that forward against better opposition and deliver far more consistently. This was his 23rd cap, after all, so he has had opportunities and Southgate is right to say that he has invested in him – with the inference that Sancho needs to start repaying that faith.

This was also Sancho’s first appearance since coming on as a substitute late into extra-time against Italy in the final of Euro 2020 when, unfortunately, he also went on to miss from the penalty spot in the shoot-out. So it would have felt good to be back in an England shirt. But Southgate will not have been pleased by an immature booking that Sancho received at the end of the first-half, when he rose to the bait following some pushing and shoving from the Andorrans and kicked the ball away, and he will no doubt have mentioned that to him.

Even so when Sancho departed on 72 minutes it felt like an evening when he had not only justified his inclusion but provided enough evidence to suggest he remains worthy of his place in the squad, at least. There was another addition to the showreel of tricks but there was also much more.

Gareth Southgate must trial 4-3-3 system against minnows to build World Cup belief

By Mike McGrath

Gareth Southgate’s plan was to come away from the Pyrenees with more than the duty-free shopping that holidaymakers come to Andorra for.

While the fixture was more of an inconvenience to Premier League clubs who would prefer their players not to risk injury on the plastic pitch at Estadi Nacional, the England manager could at least learn from how his team tried to manoeuvre around a defence that often had nine players stretched out in their backline.

The Andorrans continued with their foul-on-sight policy that served them well at Wembley last month for an hour in their efforts to keep the scoreline down. In that game the ball was in play for 38 minutes, so Southgate wanted to keep possession.

They were not helped by the plastic 3G surface at the national stadium. There is a tendency for players to pass to feet on a surface they have little trust in, so it would have been pleasing to see Ben Chilwell and Bukayo Saka’s first-half goals coming from Phil Foden’s midfield passes forward for team-mates to run onto.

Gareth Southgate must trial 4-3-3 system against minnows to build World Cup belief - SHUTTERSTOCK
Gareth Southgate must trial 4-3-3 system against minnows to build World Cup belief - SHUTTERSTOCK

Southgate’s 4-3-3 system was how he wanted his team to “manipulate the ball” and get into the tight spaces that Andorra offered. It could just as easily be interpreted as a very attacking 4-1-4-1 with James Ward-Prowse at the base of midfield.

Ward-Prowse is an interesting case for Southgate. He was only on standby for the European Championships recalled and started here, with his set-pieces looking more like David Beckham in run-up and delivery. The Southampton captain would have been in contention to come for penalties against Italy in the final had he made the squad.

Southgate would be expected to revert to a 4-2-3-1 against the teams higher in the rankings than the team listed 156th. He did so against Poland, using Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips as his defensive midfielders.

With Phillips out injured, Jordan Henderson is in line to return to the starting line-up after a heavy workload for Liverpool before the international break. But 4-3-3, with one defensive-minded midfielder, is a genuine option when chasing games against bigger nations than Group I minnows San Marino and Andorra.

On the plastic pitch in Andorra, Saka was the wide right-sided forward and was quickly racing down the side of the pitch that was set alight on the eve of the match when a TV gantry was on fire.

Jadon Sancho was on the other side and was attempting to beat his full-back more than he has been doing at Manchester United this season. Southgate noted this week that facing Wolves in the Premier League is very different to facing Wolfsburg in Bundesliga.

United’s £73million signing was liberated on Saturday night by Foden’s passing from his No8 position. Foden found him with a ball over the top for the goal Sancho set up for Ben Chilwell. It was his first assist of the season, after finding himself in front of goal but having the calmness to turn back and tee up his team-mate in front of an open goal.

Foden and Jesse Lingard as “No8s” helped break down Andorra but could be relevant at the World Cup, which is a little over a year away. In Qatar, they could be chasing a game and need five attackers on the pitch, plus marauding full-backs.

Southgate will probably have his players for another 11 games before next year’s tournament, so every training session of every international break counts, even if the opponents are lowly ranked. Next month will see them head to Stadio Olimpico Di Serravalle in San Marino where they will again be expected to win by a big margin.

Playing such opposition is a lose-lose situation, especially for strikers who are expected to score goal after goal. Tammy Abraham found himself in front of Josep Gómes often enough and put away a chance after the interval for his second international goal.

By that time the attacking line-up Southgate had fielded were wearing down the Andorrans. Ildefons Lima, 41, pulled a muscle chasing Sancho on one run down the right flank, as England continued to attack rather than take a back step.

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