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Football Whispers

England benefit from Guardiola with Sterling on rise, Stones staying strong

Spain's late goals on Tuesday night took away some of the gloss from what was generally an encouraging performance from England. Gareth Southgate's side were forced to settle for a 2-2 draw in their friendly at Wembley, but there was plenty of reason for optimism as they try to recover from their dismal showing at Euro 2016.

England are rebuilding their style and confidence after a shambolic performance in France that ended with their humiliating exit to Iceland. Roy Hodgson's departure as England boss was one major change from the summer, but potentially just as significant was Pep Guardiola's arrival at Manchester City. The coach could be a major benefit for Southgate if the latter lands the England manager job on a permanent basis.

Spain and Germany won international trophies while Guardiola was working as Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss respectively. His fingerprints were all over their successes. England have a long way to go before they are seen as serious challengers for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but there are grounds for optimism with Guardiola already having some impact on the national team.

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Sterling on the rise

Raheem Sterling was heavily criticised for his performances at the European Championships and Hodgson said he felt the forward lost confidence during the tournament. But his belief has come flowing back this season under a coach who has trust and confidence in him and the statistics back it up.

At Euro 2016, Sterling averaged 19 passes per game compared to his 34.4 in the Premier League this season with a better completion rate. He has been directly involved -- scoring or assisting -- in 12 City goals from his first 16 appearances this campaign compared to just two assists from his final 16 appearances for City last season.

He took his form into the friendly with Spain and gave Dani Carvajal a tough time. Five months earlier, when Real Madrid knocked City out of the Champions League, Carvajal had been a major threat as an attacking full-back while Sterling made little impact as a 61st-minute substitute.

The 21-year-old still has to improve his decision-making and become more of a scoring threat, but he's back to being the dangerous and exciting forward that made him one of Europe's brightest young prospects when he won the Golden Boy award in 2014 and he will only improve under Guardiola.

Raheem Sterling was criticised during Euro 2016, but has since gotten off to a roaring start for Manchester City.

Stones stays strong

John Stones didn't play a single minute at Euro 2016 but has started England's five games since.

The defender has received criticism for his style of play -- particularly after the World Cup qualifying win over Scotland when both he and England gave the ball away too often. But Southgate has encouraged the 22-year-old to continue to have confidence with the ball at his feet and become the rock at the heart of England's defence.

In Guardiola, Southgate sees the perfect coach to bring out the best in Stones on a week-to-week basis. "I think he's got the perfect manager to work with and to hone and for all of our defenders, that's what we want to encourage," Southgate said ahead of the Spain game.

Hart starts again

No player endured a tougher time at the Euros than Joe Hart, who made two dreadful errors in the games against Wales and Iceland.

It got worse when he returned to City in the summer, with Guardiola not fancying his ball-playing skills, and he went out on loan to Torino on the final day of the transfer window. 

While Guardiola can't take any direct credit for improvements to Hart's game, his assessment of the goalkeeper has forced him to reappraise his style.

"I'm having a think and to pick apart how I played and what I did, and maybe tried to change a few things. I've been speaking to people and seeking advice," said Hart ahead of the friendly with Spain. 

Hart has been the undisputed England No. 1 for the last six seasons, but the past few months have jolted him out of his comfort zone and that could be a major benefit for the national team.

Joe Hart was forced to reassess his skills following a late loan move to Torino during the summer transfer window.

Coaching revolution

The Premier League features some of the finest coaches in the world at the moment, which is of huge benefit to England.

Mauricio Pochettino has been a big influence on the improvement of Tottenham's England internationals -- Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Eric Dier and Danny Rose -- while Jurgen Klopp is doing the same for the likes of Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson and Nathaniel Clyne.

But their tactical improvements are worth nothing if the rest of the squad are lagging behind in their football knowledge. While each manager has their own unique style, Guardiola, Pochettino and Klopp share a similar ethos in terms of high pressing and ball retention.

The bulk of the England team is currently coming from City, Liverpool and Spurs and it can only be a huge help if they have common footballing philosophy dictated to them by their club bosses.

Losing the fear factor

It's been five seasons since a Premier League team last reached a Champions League final and 17 years since an English side won the trophy without the help of a penalty shootout in the grand finale.

Spanish sides in particular have a hold over English teams and won 18 straight knockout ties in Europe until Liverpool beat Villarreal in a Europa League tie last May.

Guardiola is determined to make City into one of the continent's leading clubs and tried to take Barcelona on at their own game when they met recently in the Champions League.

While the first game at the Camp Nou ended badly with a 4-0 defeat, City pushed Barca for large periods until Claudio Bravo's 53rd-minute red card.

Jonathan is ESPN FC's Manchester City correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @jonnysmiffy.


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