England beat Netherlands but usual flaws in attack, defence remain
AMSTERDAM -- Three points on England's uninspiring 1-0 win over the Netherlands in Friday's international friendly.
1. Lingard wins the game but fails to mask England's bluntness
Jesse Lingard's first England goal secured a 1-0 victory over the Netherlands in Amsterdam, but the Manchester United midfielder's strike could not mask the worrying attacking issues facing Gareth Southgate ahead of the World Cup.
Having been held to goalless draws by Germany and Brazil in their past two outings, England were at least able to notch a morale-boosting win less than three months before their World Cup opener against Tunisia in Volgograd. But in the absence of the injured Harry Kane, England once again struggled to convince as an attacking force.
By the time Lingard scored in the 59th minute, it was only England's third goal in 419 minutes of international football. The other goals were scored by Kane, against Lithuania and Slovenia, and one of those was a penalty. Prior to Lingard's strike, Kane had netted seven of England's past 14 goals.
Against the Dutch, Marcus Rashford did not convince in place of Kane, while Raheem Sterling lacked the fluency he has displayed for Manchester City this season. But England's attacking problems run deeper than their misfiring forwards. The lack of creativity in midfield is perhaps Southgate's biggest worry, with England desperately lacking a No. 10 capable of unlocking the door.
Dele Alli, who started on the bench in Amsterdam, is likely to play that role in Russia, but England also need the likes of Jordan Henderson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to produce more going forward.
Italy, England's next opponents on Tuesday, will be even tougher to break down than the limited Dutch, while the opening two group games in Russia against Tunisia and Panama threaten to be genuine battles of attrition unless Southgate's players sharpen their cutting edge.
2. Young is now the man to shift to left-back
Ashley Young's introduction as a 70th-minute replacement for Danny Rose in the Amsterdam ArenA may have genuine significance for the Manchester United man ahead of the World Cup.
England have a problem on the left side of their defence and Rose should be the man in pole position to fill it. But his patchy form at Tottenham this season has followed him onto the international stage and he was poor against the Dutch on Friday, losing possession in key areas and also failing to distribute the ball properly and wisely in attacking areas.
Luke Shaw's problems at United have ended his hopes of making the World Cup, while Ryan Bertrand is battling relegation with Southampton and he missed this game after withdrawing from the squad due to injury.
Ben Chilwell at Leicester and Fabian Delph at Manchester City are potential alternatives. Russia is probably too soon for Chilwell, while Delph's injuries always seem to deny him a chance at the international level. Young, however, has become the first-choice left-back under Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford and he has the experience and versatility to be a hugely important member of Southgate's World Cup squad.
Perhaps mindful of his defensive limitations, Germany set out with a three-man back line including Manchester City right-back Kyle Walker, with Kieran Trippier and Rose at full-back. The early injury loss of Joe Gomez, replaced by Harry Maguire, didn't help the new-look rearguard settle, but the lack of penetration and quality from the Dutch gave them a largely comfortable night.
This season, at least, Young has defended better than Rose and his awareness going forward also gives him the edge over the Tottenham man. If he can steer clear of injuries over the final two months of the season, Young should be in England's team for the World Cup opener against Tunisia.
3. No quick fix for Koeman and the Dutch
Dutch football is clearly at a low ebb, with one of the game's great nations facing up to watching a second successive major tournament at home after failing to qualify for Russia 2018, two years after missing out on Euro 2016. Ronald Koeman has been appointed as coach to get them back on track in time for Euro 2020, but the former Netherlands captain will have known the task ahead of him even before this disappointing first game in charge.
Quite simply, the Netherlands have stopped producing top-quality internationals and the fact that the most-capped player in the current squad is former Liverpool winger Ryan Babel, a man whose career never hit the heights it should have, says everything about the dearth of talent in Dutch football right now. The presence of Bas Dost, a severely limited centre-forward, in the team is another pointer to the cupboard being bare.
They have high hopes for Ajax defender Matthijs de Ligt and Justin Kluivert, the son of former striker Patrick, but the Netherlands need more than a couple of promising teenagers. This game offered further proof that the Dutch also need a change of mentality and a return to the days when they were bold and adventurous in possession.
Too many of their players opt to pass backward or sideways and lack the confidence to take on the opposition. Memphis Depay is perhaps the one Dutch forward prepared to do this but the former Manchester United winger sometimes suffers from overconfidence.
It is a hard reality to accept but the days of Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder are over and there are no guarantees that Koeman will be able to revive the Dutch quickly enough to get them to Euro 2020.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_