Jadon Sancho got just what he needed in England win after an underwhelming start at Manchester United

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Come Qatar in little over a year’s time, England may well look back on a night in the Pyrenees and the role it played in shaping their World Cup plans.

Three qualifying points were never in doubt against Andorra, but it was the opportunity it provided players to stake a case to Gareth Southgate that could prove the most valuable part of the whole experience of Saturday’s 5-0 win.

Phil Foden gave a glimpse of his potential as a central midfield playmaker by cutting open a near-10-man defence with his vision, intelligence and supreme technique.

The Euros never really happened for the Manchester City man, but another season as a pivotal figure for Pep Guardiola should make him even more primed to seize a major tournament next time around.

If that comes in a deeper role, it would have the dual benefit of not only giving England the type of midfield control they have traditionally lacked, but also freeing up space for Southgate’s embarrassment of riches in wide attacking areas.

One key beneficiary could be Jadon Sancho, who had a very good night on Saturday, bettered only by Foden.

The Manchester United winger needed it after an underwhelming start at his new club, which followed a Euros that saw him wait on the fringes, rather than showcase the talent that earned him his £73million move from Borussia Dortmund in the summer.

Sancho, like Foden, is the type of rare talent previous England managers might have built their team around. His move to United is his coming of age after taking Germany by storm.

Instead, he has been overshadowed by the return of Cristiano Ronaldo to Old Trafford, showing little of the dribbling and creative qualities that made him one of the most sought-after wingers in Europe.

Even Southgate, himself, admitted Sancho was fortunate to make this latest England squad. Yet his decision to call him up felt important; putting a nurturing arm around him, rather than cutting him adrift at a turbulent point of his early career.

“There’s always a balance with these things,” said the England manager. “There are times when it is maybe better for a player not to be here and to be able to get settled in at a club. I felt at this moment in time for him that he would benefit from being with us, and also I don’t think anybody else in those positions warranted being in ahead of him at this moment in time.

Bukayo Saka celebrates with Jadon Sancho (Getty Images)
Bukayo Saka celebrates with Jadon Sancho (Getty Images)

“That competition is there. For all of the players, there is competition for places. Marcus (Rashford) will be back to fitness soon, but that again is good, it is healthy for our squad.”

So Southgate’s compassion was also laced with a warning that Sancho’s position is relatively precarious, with time running out before the World Cup.

It would be remarkable to think he would not at least be involved in the squad. In reality, a player who makes such a big-money move to a club like United would be expected to be a principal figure for his country. The hope for both United and England is that two assists and the chance to showcase some of his skills in Andorra will kick-start his campaign.

Likewise Ben Chilwell, who got his first goal for his country to begin the healing after his own inaction at the Euros and the hangover that has reduced his playing time for Chelsea this season.

In Tammy Abraham, Southgate has a player who looks rejuvenated since leaving the sidelines at Stamford Bridge to play a leading role at Roma.

He, too, was on the scoresheet, and while his long-term ambition is to displace Harry Kane, he will know it is a wide-open field in the race to be first-choice back-up to England’s talisman.

Jack Grealish, who came off the bench to win a penalty and score his first international goal, is another who will want to be a more prominent member of England’s World Cup ambitions than he was at the Euros.

Southgate wants more goals from him, so this was a step in the right direction.

But it was Foden who reached the highest peak in this Pyranees ski resort. And even if Southgate dismissed the suggestion the 21-year-old failed to hit the heights at the Euros, he knows there is the potential to be so much more for his country.

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