So there we go, that’s another Interlull disappearing from view, but what (if anything!) did we learn from it? First of all from an England perspective it seems the front three that is emerging: Sterling, Kane, Rashford/Sancho is enough to rival any in the international game. With a total of nine goals scored in the two games against the ‘might’ of Bulgaria and Kosovo all but one of which came from Kane, Sterling and Sancho, the exception being an own goal deflected in from a Sancho cross; demonstrates clearly that England boast enough firepower to cause any of their potential rivals problems.
Raheem Sterling, in particular, demonstrated his continued development under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola and is laying down a marker to be considered amongst the uber-elite players in the modern game. If he hasn’t quite reached the level of Ronaldo and Messi (yet?) he can perhaps be welcomed into the second tier alongside Mbappé, Salah, Griezmann, Hazard & co. The selfishness / lack of awareness of those around him, that was so evident in Russia seems, to have been eradicated and he is evolving into not only a prolific scorer of all types of goals, but one capable of creating for and assisting his attacking allies.
If only the same could be said of the midfield and defence. The game against Kosovo in particular, where lackadaisical errors from Keane, Rice and Maguire gifted one of UEFA’s newest teams three goals, demonstrated a worrying fragility at the back. The midfield is functional but lacks creativity and the sprinkling of magic dust that the truly top level teams possess.
The two victories maintained England’s 100% start to the qualifying campaign and at the midway stage it seems qualification is certain, if not yet confirmed. The finals tournament will of course be spread across the continent but with the semi-finals and final to be played at Wembley Gareth Southgate and his charges will be hopeful of a third successive tournament semi-final appearance, this time on home soil. However as ever for England, the proof of their aspiration for true success will come if they are able to get a result when it really matters.
Defensive frailties meant that Gareth Southgate’s men failed to secure a single cleansheet in their progress through to the semi-finals in Russia last summer. Defeat to Croatia in that semi-final followed by another one to Holland at the same stage of the Nations League; suggest a foundation that isn’t solid enough against the better teams.
At this stage it very much looks as if standing in the way of England’s hoped for path to true glory will very much be the usual suspects. England’s conquerors in Russia, Croatia, sit top of their group by a point despite a shock 1-1 draw against Azerbaijan.
World Champions France are the favourites to win the tournament, with the bookmakers at least, and have recovered from an unexpected defeat by Turkey back in June to sit level on points at the top of their group.
Belgium have swept all before them winning six out of six and boasting a +18 goal difference, with Kevin DeBruyne back to his imperious best after an injury interrupted season last season, they look very much the team to beat.
Disappointing at the World Cup (for the German nation at least whereas the rest of us found it hilarious!), Germany seem to have returned to some semblance of form and sit atop their group level on points with surprise package Northern Ireland (yes Northern Ireland!). Just three points behind those two and with a game in hand is a seemingly resurgent Holland side that, having failed to qualify for the last two tournaments, seem to be very much on an upward trajectory spearheaded by another wave of exciting young talent.
Holders Portugal sit five points behind Ukraine in their group but with Cristiano Ronaldo firing in five goals in their last two games they will be hopeful that their talisman can once again lead them to where they want to be.
Spain and Italy have both won six out of six in their campaigns thus far and will undoubtedly be in the mix for progression towards London.
For now though we can return to normality for a full four weeks and concentrate on club matters both domestic and continental, starting with tomorrow’s lunch-time visit of Newcastle to league leaders Liverpool. Steve Bruce’s men will go to Anfield without too much hope but, having registered a surprise 1-0 win at Tottenham in their most recent away jaunt, might be considered to have something of a puncher’s chance. Cue 5-0 demolition then!
Assuming Jürgen Klopp’s men do the business, even at this ridiculously early stage, the weight of pressure will swing over to Manchester City who travel to Carrow Road to take on Norwich in the evening kick-off. Already, after just four games, it seems clear that the title race will like last season be another battle of attrition between those two sides; whether any of the rest can join the race remains to be seen.
In midweek European competition returns and for once the elite competition actually offers some interesting group stage match-ups with: Liverpool travelling to Napoli, Chelsea hosting Valencia, Borussia Dortmund entertaining Barcelona, Atlético Madrid welcoming Juventus, and of course the clash of two of the richest clubs in the world when PSG and Real Madrid meet in Paris on Wednesday night.
For those of us consigned to yet another season watching Arsenal in the Europa League it is an early evening kick-off against Eintracht Frankfurt while Wolves take on Braga and Manchester United play Astana.
Having survived another Interlull there is plenty for us football obsessives to look forward to.