England reporter notebook: Switch to a back three? Raheem Sterling one of the world's best?
By Kaveh Solhekol
Last Updated: 11/09/19 11:40pm
England maintained their 100 per cent record in Euro 2020 qualifying with an entertaining 5-3 victory over Kosovo but what did we learn?
Sky Sports News reporter Kaveh Solhekol was at St Mary's and says although England's fourth win in four Group A matches has put them in control of the group, Gareth Southgate won't be entirely happy...
Time to switch back to a back three?
It's very unusual to see England conceding three times in a competitive game at home. The last time it happened was 12 years ago against Croatia. Kosovo took full advantage of individual mistakes by England players and they could have scored more.
Southgate and his coaching team will be analysing what went wrong over the next few days but they won't be able to work with these players until the international break next month.
Last night was the 13th consecutive game that Southgate has made changes at the back. He picks players who are playing well for their clubs and that means we haven't seen the settled backline that England used in the World Cup in Russia.
On their run to the semi-finals, Southgate went with a back three of Harry Maguire, John Stones and Kyle Walker. Stones is injured at the moment and Walker was left out of this squad.
It's all well and good England experimenting with different formations during qualifiers, but going into a major tournament, Southgate will have settled on his preferred formation and starters - and that could mean a return to three at the back.
Sancho or Rashford?
Marcus Rashford has a real fight on his hands to hold onto his England place. England looked more dangerous going forward with Jadon Sancho in the side.
The Borussia Dortmund forward is a potent attacking force and he works hard when England don't have the ball. His two England goals last night will be the first of many.
He is on the same wavelength as Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane and a front three of Sterling, Kane and Sancho is arguably one of the best trios in the world.
With a front three that dangerous, England can afford to play with two holding midfielders and rely on their attackers to take the game away from their opponents.
This is a big season for Rashford. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has shown faith in him by making him the main man at Manchester United and selling Romelu Lukaku.
You sense United will sign another forward next summer so Rashford needs to prove he can be the centre forward United need this season.
At international level, Southgate is not convinced Rashford is centre forward material. He is a big fan of Rashford though - identified by the fact no player has played more for England since Southgate became England manager.
Sterling and Kane will be guaranteed starters for England in Euro 2020. The other forward will be Sancho or Rashford - and don't rule out a fit-again Callum Hudson-Odoi.
Harry Kane is human after all...
10 September 2019. Remember the date. That was when Kane actually failed to put away a penalty. It was the first one he's missed in three years for England.
Although he didn't technically "miss". Southgate was quick to point out afterwards that the spot kick had been saved and was actually on target.
TV also viewers noticed that if VAR had been in use it would have been retaken because the Kosovo goalkeeper Arijanet Muric moved off his line before Kane struck the ball.
Last night was one of the most exciting England games in years - and critics of VAR would say it would have ruined the flow of the game and the atmosphere had a retaken penalty been scored to make it 6-1 to England.
And while we're at it, in hindsight, the FA made the right decision to play the game at St Mary's.
Yes, the Kosovo players and fans were disappointed not to be playing at Wembley, but a smaller stadium meant a cracking atmosphere and a thrilling game.
The value of Sterling
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will not be losing any sleep over it but Sterling is getting to a level were he should be challenging for the top individual honours in the world soon.
Sterling is not on the ten-man shortlist for the the Best FIFA men's player - but he should be and most certainly will be next year if he maintains this level.
The award ceremony is in Milan on 23 September and Sterling would not look out of place as one of the finalists alongside Ronaldo, Messi and Virgil Van Dijk.
There's always next year.
Kosovo: A rising force?
What's not to like about this Kosovo side and their manager? They are a band of brothers who play for the shirt and the flag of their young country.
They play football on the front foot and work tirelessly when they are out of possession. Their never say die attitude meant England fans were still nervous going into the last ten minutes leading 5-3.
Sitting behind the Kosovo bench at St Mary's was like being in the away end at a game in the 1980s. Their subs and backroom staff spent most of the game on their feet urging their side forward and celebrating wildly every time they scored.
Just 24 hours earlier we'd all been discussing how qualifiers had become boring and routine for England. Someone obviously forgot to tell Kosovo.
They may be ranked 120th in the world by FIFA, but there is no way that there are 119 international sides better than them.
They are now third in Group A and thanks to finishing top of their Nations League group, they are guaranteed at least a play-off place for Euro 2020.
Here's hoping the fairytale continues and we see them and their fans at Euro 2020. And it wouldn't be a surprise to see more of their players playing in England one day - especially Valon Berisha and Vedat Muriqi.