Even though Krasimir Balakov put five men in defence, as he followed a 5-4-1 formation, the Three Lions still put four goals in the back of the Bulgarian net and Wembley responded wonderfully. There was nothing complicated about this game of football against Bulgaria which saw England top their qualifying group, though Kosovo are only a point behind. As you can already imagine, today’s game should certainly be interesting when the two meet – will England continue their winning streak?
The game against Bulgaria began heating up in the 14th minute, when Danny Rose’s sweet cross found Jordan Henderson. Though the Liverpool captain just couldn’t exploit the shot and sent the ball way off target. Nevertheless, that didn’t create a slither of doubt over our England team, who are displaying a different kind of technicality, strength and determination than we’ve seen in recent years. They are creative and innovative on the pitch, with the front three Marcus Rashford, Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling definitely leaving a lasting impression on England’s capability in Europe.
At 18 minutes, England almost saw success when Kane delivered into the back of the Bulgarian net, only to be flagged as offside, though it seemed the England captain knew as soon as he drove the ball in. First success followed just five minutes later, when in the 24th minute Raheem Sterling found Harry Kane after collecting a terrible pass from Bulgarian goalkeeper Plamen Iliev and the Spurs forward drove the ball into the away sides net.
The remainder of the first half and perhaps much of the remaining game lacked the excitement that games against Barcelona would have created but Bulgaria were certainly determined to prevent England from scoring. In an interview after full-time, Gareth Southgate commented on the fact that England should have been quicker on the ball at times, as Bulgaria were given too many opportunities to counter in the first half but the Three Lions were definitely a sharper team in the second half.
England’s second goal came after Nikolay Bodurov took Rashford down in the penalty box. The Manchester United star played as a winger for England and that seems to be a position that suits the forward as Bulgaria were definitely under pressure from his pace, movement and ability to keep the ball so close to his feet down the left flank. He has been encouraged by Southgate and the other England coaches to use his speed more effectively in play and push forwards rather than drop back to look for the ball so that opportunities like the ones he created for Kane can be maximised.
So, though Rashford is probably disappointed by the fact he failed to deliver a goal for his side, that does not go against his credibility as a player. Southgate kept Rashford on for the entire 90 minutes as the 21-year-old proved he is needed by his side. He has scored four goals in his last seven international fixtures and assisted more times than I can count. There is no doubt, a goal will be in his midst soon.
In the 54th minute Sterling saw glory, thanks to his knee, or upper thigh primed in perfect position. It began with a lovely one-two from Rashford to Kane, who then crossed it to Sterling to send another one home for England. Goalkeeper, Iliev could do nothing more but look at the ball pass him by and England were 3-0 up.
At 65 minutes, Mason Mount made his England debut as a substitute for Jordan Henderson and five minutes later Raheem Sterling was substituted for Jadon Sancho. He received an ovation as he exited the pitch and quite rightly so, as his performance was second to none. With England looking secure for the win, Southgate seemed to have deployed his younger players onto the pitch in order to provide a push and prepare the youngsters for the games to come, or to put it plainly, for Kosovo today as Sancho and Mount are expect to feature in the starting XI.
Mount and Sancho displayed flashes of a promising performance, with Mount making an ambitious shot within his first few minutes of coming onto the pitch, though the ball was well off target. For the remainder of the game they were lively, pressing forwards to establish themselves as well deserving members of the senior England squad.
The fourth goal for England was yet another penalty, which marked Kane’s hat-trick. He was taken down in the box by Kristian Dimitrov, who will have definitely regretted making that move. Looking calm and focused, Kane fired the ball past Iliev to take his international record to 25 goals in 40 appearances and secure another victory for England.
Also landing a cap in the game against Bulgaria was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, his first in 18 months too after recovering from a serious injury. He replaced Harry Kane with not far over ten minutes to go before full-time and his long-awaited return was definitely worth it as he and Danny Rose nearly scored a fifth for England. The Liverpool midfielder looked composed in play and fans can definitely expect to see more of him in action as the season goes on.
Jesse Lingard and Aaron Wan-Bissaka were missing from the bench as Lingard recovers from a minor illness and Wan-Bissaka from a back injury. Neither are expected to make an appearance at St. Mary’s Stadium for the game against Kosovo either and will instead aim to be better in time for their Premier League games. A real shame for Lingard’s Manchester United teammate, Wan-Bissaka who will have missed out on making his England debut.
Now England prepare for their next challenge which will be a completely different game for the Three Lions as they host Kosovo in Southampton. Kosovo are more threatening on the attack than Bulgaria and will challenge England’s winning streak. It is rumoured that Southgate may be starting with: Pickford; Alexander-Arnold, Keane, Maguire, Rose; Rice, Henderson, Barkley; Sancho, Kane and Sterling but there is no telling until tonight.
As England’s most challenging yet, don’t bet against Southgate using his more experienced players in this evening’s line up despite England’s young, rising stars displaying strong fervour and determination. England and Kosovo have never played each other in an international match so this game will be extremely interesting as we go in knowing nothing, though one thing we do know, is the Three Lions are more than capable of extending their perfect record. #ComeOnEngland