England’s 1-0 warm-up win against Austria on Wednesday showed why Gareth Southgate may come to rue the decision to leave in-form midfielder Jesse Lingard out of his 26-man squad for Euro 2020.
Bukayo Saka scored the only goal of the game after some excellent build-up play from Harry Kane, Jack Grealish and Lingard. The Manchester United man, who spent the second half of the season on a convincing loan spell at West Ham United, provided an excellent first-touch pass which completely caught Austria off guard and was latched on to by Grealish, who was bundled over before Saka finished simply into an empty net.
Lingard’s role in the goal and his overall performance, as well as the fact he was starting for England when he was not going to Euros had everyone asking, why not?
The 28-year-old’s professionalism shone through at the Riverside Stadium even when he knew this game was not going to have any impact on his chances of making it to Euro 2020. His determination off the ball was exceptional and he was able to spot and make some brilliant runs to offer an outlet to his team-mates.
After a stunning half-season at the London Stadium and with this latest top-level performance on the international stage, questions will be asked of Southgate as to why Lingard is not going to be playing against Croatia next week. He came into this game as one of the highest-performing players in the Premier League with nine goals to his name.
Then you have Jordan Henderson, who has been out through injury for the last few months and still has a way to go in his recovery, along with the struggling Harry Maguire. Southgate is gambling on the two players, rated for their leadership as well as their ability, to play a part in the tournament which kicks off in just nine days. If Henderson was to suffer another setback within the next week, then Lingard would surely be the replacement if it came to it. However, this scenario should not be England’s reality. Lingard’s performances for West Ham, which helped them secure European football, fully warranted a place in the 26-man squad.
It should have come to them having one but not the other, especially when you consider Southgate’s selection of four right-backs. He has not stopped talking about the versatility of the four he selected, but why would you consider a full-back for a midfield role when you have specifically chosen midfielders to play those roles? It just seems to be a bit of a gamble with not much thought going into it. There is no doubt in the quality of these defenders, but when a couple of them will not have much of a role in the tournament, it would have been a smarter decision to take an extra attacking option in Lingard.
Asked afterwards by ITV about possibility of losing Trent and calling up a midfield player, Southgate was cautious, saying: “Let's see how Trent is first and then we will go from there.”
Apart from Lingard’s performance the game itself was not much of a spectacle and about as congested you would expect of a warm-up game. The first half was a typically frustrating one for England.
Trent Alexander-Arnold had the first chance of the game, smashing the ball over the bar, before Jude Bellingham almost had the dream full debut but his header from a corner was gathered by Daniel Bachmann. In his first start for the Three Lions, Bellingham was showing his maturity, throwing his body around in doing some excellent defensive work.
England came off the pace as the half progressed, and Austria started to gain more confidence in possession simply because they were allowed more time with it. Saka’s goal came just before the hour mark and there was a sense that that was going to be the only goal of the game. The visitors had a few chances themselves, with Marcel Sabitzer having a couple – one rattling the crossbar. Right at the death, the visitors nearly pulled themselves level but a superb goal-line clearance from substitute Ben White was enough for England to hold out their narrow lead.
A late injury to Alexander-Arnold may be a cause for concern as he was forced off the field and did not appear to be in a good way, but while Lingard might yet get in on a technicality if a team-mate pulls out injured, it seems silly that he has been left to sit and wait like this.