Sometimes in football, the simple things will take you where you need to go.
Passes over the heads of full-backs into space. Distribution that uses the full width of the field. Accurate crosses in to good areas towards centre forwards willing to make runs across the front of technically inferior defenders.
None of it is particularly revolutionary or clever. It may not always be that pretty.
England beat Albania to make it two wins from two in their 2022 World Cup qualifying bid
Harry Kane’s first England goal in 16 months opened the scoring for the visitors on 38 minutes
Chelsea midfielder Mason Mount doubled the advantage for the Three Lions after the break
But against opposition a notch below your level it can often be enough and in Tirana’s Arena Kombetare today it dug England out of a small hole that had been entirely of their own digging.
For almost 40 long minutes against Albania, England were too deep, too slow and too careful.
On a sluggish surface that was not designed to be their friend, it took Gareth Southgate’s players an awfully long time to figure out that playing across and in front of another packed defence was not really the way to go.
Had their manager handicapped them a little by fielding a side with two holding midfielder players – Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice – against a team ranked number 66 in the world? Maybe so. Southgate could perhaps have been a little braver here.
Gareth Southgate’s England struggled to create a great deal for the opening 35 minutes
Nevertheless, sometimes players have to work things out for themselves. Once England did that here they were on their way to a victory that was ultimately as comfortable as that recorded over San Marino at Wembley last Thursday.
One move, one cross and one header was all it actuallty took to turn this game. Prior to that, it had been even in terms of good chances. One each.
But when Mason Mount won possession cleverly 35 yards from goal and began a move that allowed Phil Foden to feed Luke Shaw on the left in the 38th minute, England were able to demonstrate their superior quality perhaps for the first time.
Shaw’s cross was a good one and it found England captain Harry Kane moving across his marker Freddie Vesili. The header down and towards the back post was a good one and it was a goal good enough and timely enough to essentially settle this game.
After a poor Three Lions start, Kane headed England in front from Luke Shaw’s perfect cross
Kane hadn’t scored for his country for 500 days prior to this. No wonder he had been so keen to play in the San Marino Turkey shoot.
And in scoring here, he was merely exerting a clear superiority over the Albanian defender trying to mark him.
Kane plays for Tottenham while Veseli plays in the Italian second tier having once turned out for Port Vale and Bury. It made sense, then, for England to attempt to place the two men in direct competition as often as possible. So why had it taken them so long?
After that, Kane could have scored two more. He could have registered another England hat-trick.
Kane nearly doubled his tally just before half-time but hit the bar from a few yards out
A superb cross by Raheem Sterling – the best of the game – saw Kane strike the crossbar on the half volley four minutes after his goal and then, in the second half, he was off target when left completely unmarked at a corner just before the hour.
By that time, England were playing much better. They had seen the light. The grass on the pitch was still long but had become less of a problem for a team now moving the ball quicker and looking to turn their opposition round with sharp, accurate balls in to better and deeper areas.
Having said that, the second goal was a gift. The Albania midfield gave the ball away 40 yards out and when Kane found Mount with a ball right to left in to the penalty area just after the hour, he was able to control it neatly and lift it first time with his right instep over the goalkeeper and in to the far corner.
Mount made the most on some poor Albanian defending to curl England’s second in
Mount will face tougher nights than the two he has just experienced for his country. Nevertheless, the Chelsea player has been outstanding in both.
The 22-year-old moves the ball beautifully, sees the big pictures and doesn’t seem to understand how complicated football can be if you allow it. The simplicity of Mount’s midfield play is its beauty and it will be extraordinary if he is not in Southgate’s team when the European Championships begin in June.
Having said all that, a rare misstep early in the game could have seen his team fall behind. Mount was trying to intercept a pass in the Albanian half in the 13th minute but in doing so could only divert the ball in to the path of the home team’s number four Elseid Hysaj.
England were fortunate not to gall behind in the first half when Myrto Uzuni blazed over
Albania (4-3-3): Berisha; Hysaj, Ismajli, Djimsiti, Veseli; Laci (sub Ramadani 89), Bare (sub Memushaj 71), Memolla (sub Gjasula 59); Cikalleshi (sub Manaj 59), Broja (sub Lenjani 59), Uzuni
Subs not used: Strakhosa, Selmani, A.Ajeti, Hoxhallari, Doka, Kallaku, Kamberi
Booked: Hysaj, Bare, Gjasula
England (4-3-3): Pope; Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw; Phillips (sub Ward-Prowse 71), Rice, Mount; Foden (sub Lingard 81), Kane, Sterling
Subs not used: Henderson, Trippier, Coady, James, Calvert-Lewin, Mings, Chilwell, Watkins, Johnstone, Bellingham
Booked: Walker, Kane
Goals: Kane 38, Mount 63
Referee: Orel Grinfeld (ISR)
Suddenly, out of absolutely nowhere, Albania were on the break and when Hysaj fed Myrto Uzuni through the middle the forward shot over when really he should have scored.
That felt like an important moment in the game. Albania were never likely to create many opportunities and so it turned out. Indeed England goalkeeper Nick Pope was ultimately able to record his seventh consecutive clean sheet for his country without having to make a save.
The Burnley player – who may need to work on his distribution if he is replace Jordan Pickford in the long term – did not need to make one against San Marino either.
Over the course of this game, Albania’s keeper Etrit Berisha was also not overly busy. The only chance England created before Kane’s goal saw John Stones head over from a corner.
Subsequently Berisha did do well to touch a Foden shot on to the post after Sterling ran to a Mount pass to look up and pull the ball back. Apart from that, Berisha – also from Italy’s Serie B – was not overly troubled and that is something Southgate may wish to think about as he prepares his debrief ahead of Poland at Wembley on Wednesday.
England have the best group of technical and creative players they have had for some time. But they need to have game intelligence, too. So does their coach. This was a perfectly satisfactory England victory but equally a performance that took a little too long to find answers to a perfectly straight forward puzzle.
Sportsmail’s SAM BLITZ was on the live blog for the World Cup qualifier between Albania and England…
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