Rating the England players against Ukraine: from sensational Saka to mid from Maddison
James Maddison was solid on his full England debut and the first signs of Jude Bellingham burnout are evident, but Bukayo Saka and Harry Kane were brilliant.
The most virtual of spectators. Pulled clear of Paul Robinson for England clean sheets and it is impossible and weird to argue he shouldn’t have. One small quibble is that Pickford’s kicking was pretty substandard, with a pass accuracy lower than any other Three Lions starter.
Pretty much the archetypal example as to why he still gets picked despite a) being 32, b) this not being his best of seasons and c) the stuff with the thing. Ukraine’s entire attacking plan was constructed around Mykhaylo Mudryk’s pace and Walker single-handedly (double-footedly?) countered it. The one time the Chelsea forward did get through after pulling the Manchester City right-back out of position with a nifty one-two, the move was offside. That recovery pace and covering defence is here to stay for a while – certainly as long as everyone else fails to sustain a proper challenge in the position.
Made no tackles, interceptions, clearances or fouls because he did not have to. Shite at Countdown.
Could not help but ruin a faultless and imposing, albeit largely unchallenged 90 minutes by heading over a presentable chance at the back post from a corner. Ended up with the joint-most shots of any player. Really good positioning to intercept a Mudryk cutback at one stage but even that was offside as Ukraine offered close to nothing.
England focusing most of their forward play down the right, coupled with the awkward deployment of Maddison as a left-sided central midfielder in support, meant Chilwell struggled to properly impose himself at times. On the rare early occasions he actually advanced into the opposition half the threat he can pose was clear: first with a lovely ball in which evaded an applauding Kane after 10 minutes, then when driving from deep to start the move for the opening goal. It was no coincidence that as soon as Grealish came on and a semblance of balance was restored, Chilwell looked really very good indeed.
The decision to greet a nice Stones switch by hammering the ball backwards and up into the air under no real pressure in the first half was funny. Really enjoyed that. Proper training ground move.
Ben Chilwell's game by numbers vs. Ukraine:
100% take-on success
5 ball recoveries
4 accurate crosses
3 chances created
2 duels won
1 big chance created
— Squawka Live (@Squawka_Live) March 26, 2023
Aggressively tidy from the elder midfield statesman. Really excelled at being exactly eight yards from Saka in the inside-right space in the first half, at one stage clipping a lovely trademark ball into Kane from precisely that area. A sharp pass into feet gave Saka a tap-in for the second goal. Perhaps crucially was not knackered after an hour.
No notes. Had a slightly busier time of it in midweek. Did what he needed to quietly and efficiently – all with the noise of a tutting Graeme Souness in his head.
Always nice to have a real-life and accurate example of ‘Uh, no, they’re saying Boo-urns’. Genuinely quite jarring to hear Wembley greet his substitution as such until the realisation hit that they were just saying his first name in unison. Bellingham’s early pressing was excellent and panicked Ukraine into plenty of mistakes, including for a Kane chance the midfielder set up at 2-0. There was some sublime footwork at one stage to get himself out of a potentially sticky situation in his own half, but on a couple of occasions the opposition got back at him and he looked uncharacteristically rushed. There are minutes in those teenaged legs and it is starting to show a little.
It’s taken long enough to accept and embrace the fact England have one genuinely elite forward. Saka has firmly established himself on that level for both club and country now in the same way Kane did long ago – and he is still 40 days younger than Kane when the captain made his Three Lions debut.
Vitaliy Mykolenko will not forget his evening quickly as the Everton full-back often requested and always required more assistance down his side. Saka played Kane in with a lovely flick for the penalty shout, then combined really well with Henderson. But it was when he bypassed the typical move of running to the byline and cutting back for Henderson to cross that England had their breakthrough. Saka instead cut inside and created a morsel of space himself to find the striker. The roll which left Matvienko reeling soon after before a picturesque curled finish was sublime. He really has mastered the art of making something out of nothing, which was particularly handy given the stodgy start England made.
Spent the first half an hour in proper fraud mode. Henderson and Maddison both found him in the six-yard box with excellent deliveries but Kane made the bizarre decision both times to dangle an aimless high boot at balls he could have headed. There was also a lovely collapse in the penalty area followed by indignant protestations. Then he boiled dangerous levels of piss by dropping deep, except it was his switch of play for an incredibly elaborate one-two with Saka which unlocked a stubborn defence and allowed him to score the opener. It was a suitably terrible finish to keep both fans and critics happy too, accidentally nudging the ball over the line after the cross was deflected.
After ending the first half tracking further back to tackle Mudryk, Kane spent the majority of the second putting on an exhibition in exquisite hold and link-up play and even had the rare joy of being able to nip in the shower before everyone else. Did not take it because he is a classy pro. Also did not misplace a single pass in 81 minutes.
An unspectacular but solid full debut. Tested Stepanenko’s poor 33-year-old ankles with a lovely sharp turn, eliciting the mildest of Wembley whoops. Some questionable set-piece deliveries were punctured by one beauty which Kane should have converted. Often made the wrong choice in possession, particularly when delaying an obvious Saka pass too long on one counter
IVAN TONEY (on for Kane, 81)
Won a header. Ploughed into a defender. Earned Peterborough £1m. Did at least play this time.
CONOR GALLAGHER (on for Bellingham, 85)
Had three touches and probably should have scored with one.
JACK GREALISH (on for Maddison, 85)
Received the biggest non-goal cheer simply for being introduced as what turned out to be a very good substitute.
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