It was ludicrous that Raheem Sterling got as much blame as he did after Euro 2016, when he was merely one of a number of under-performers rather than the stand-out villain. What he has shown since is that he is still a special talent, a player with a rare ability to beat opponents and also to provide sharp final-third delivery. That is what playing for Pep Guardiola can do for a player’s confidence. So Sterling proved again here, setting up the opener by darting down the left wing and providing a brilliant cross back for Jermain Defoe to convert. Not bad for someone accused of having ‘no end product’.
Oxlade-Chamberlain blew it
This was a big moment for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who in the absence of Jordan Henderson was given the ‘number 8’ role alongside Eric Dier in England’s 4-2-3-1. It is a role he has started to play more often at Arsenal, with the collapse of their other midfield options, and this should have been a good chance to showcase his skills. But too often he could not make the right decision, or execute it. Passes were hit astray, crosses flew into touch and that intended spark never really materialised. Gareth Southgate might have wondered why he did not start Ross Barkley there instead.
Alli showed maturity
The last time Dele Alli was here at Wembley he had one of the worst moments of his career. Tottenham were facing KAA Gent in the Europa League, trying to get back into the tie. Alli grew frustrated and launched himself into the shin of Brecht Dejaegere and was sent off. Spurs crashed out of the Europa League without Alli. That was only one month ago but today we saw a very different Alli, more mature, more able to withstand what the opposition throw at him. He was targeted by Lithuania’s Linas Klimavicius but never responded, continued to take the ball in tight spaces and play his game.
Lallana is the brains of the operation
If Dele Alli is the heartbeat of this England team then Adam Lallana is the brains. The Liverpool midfielder is one of the most improved players in his generation, remarkable for continuing to improve through his mid and late 20s. Even more hearteningly, he is taking his Liverpool form into England duty with him, which is something few players do. Here again he was England’s creative genius, playing clever passes in behind the well drilled Lithuanian defence. He nearly put Defoe through in the first half but he eventually got his assist, playing in Jamie Vardy with a brilliantly disguised touch, setting up England’s second goal.
Southgate following Guardiola on Stones
When Pep Guardiola launched his famous defence of John Stones last week, complimenting his personality and, well, “his balls”, he said that it was difficult to play as a centre-back in a Guardiola team. “It's not easy to play central defender with this manager,” he said. “You have to defend with 40 metres behind you and make the build-up.” Gareth Southgate is not quite England’s Guardiola but he likes his back four to play high up the pitch too, leaving space in behind. England were hit there once in the first half but Stones recovered well to clear off the line.