Everton v Tottenham: England's Alli, Barkley, Stones & Kane shine
Everton's draw with Tottenham at Goodison Park may not have brought a winner - but it will have given a warm glow to England manager Roy Hodgson.
As the year starts and the countdown to Euro 2016 begins, the young talent at Hodgson's disposal was glittering in the Merseyside deluge and brought rich praise from respective managers Roberto Martinez and Tottenham's Mauricio Pochettino.
Dele Alli (midfielder, 19)
The £5m Tottenham paid MK Dons to secure a teenager who made his Premier League debut at Manchester United looks more of a bargain with every passing day.
Alli has already won full England recognition and at Goodison on Sunday, the 6ft 2ins-youngster showed his versatility as well as his physical and footballing capability.
He has played in a variety of midfield roles for Spurs this season, such as further forward from anchor Eric Dier, but here he was pushed into the number 10 role with Mousa Dembele out injured.
Alli was willing to mix it in the physical exchanges. He showed his eye for a goal with brilliant control and a fine finish from Toby Alderweireld's pass for Spurs' equaliser on half-time.
He also showed he is forming a natural partnership with Harry Kane, which will be of great interest to Hodgson as he formulates his plans for France.
Spurs boss Pochettino has no fears about a heavy programme taking its toll on Alli, saying: "From the beginning we have taken care of him and if he keeps playing well there is no reason why it will be a strain for him."
Alli looks a certainty for England's squad and his midfield adaptability and rapid development, as well as an eye for goal that has already brought him five in the league this season, will make him a prize asset for club and country.
Ross Barkley (midfielder, 22)
Everton may have underachieved this season but Barkley continues to develop as one of his club's and England's most exciting talents.
Barkley's form dipped last season after the World Cup but, rested and rejuvenated, he was still going strong at the final whistle at Goodison Park, emerging with Romelu Lukaku as Everton's best hope for a winner.
He has struggled with decision making in the past but there is more measure in his play this season. As well as scoring six Premier League goals, he could yet emerge as the number 10 in England's plans for France.
|Alli v Barkley in the league (2015-16)|
Barkley is also becoming more of a team player and more reliable with his passing, while still retaining his eye for the unexpected, which will please Hodgson who has occasionally taken him to task for his wastefulness.
Everton boss Martinez has no complaints, saying: "This was Ross Barkley's most mature performance in three years. It was a really good game between two teams not afraid to invest in young players. Ross now fits into a structure - he plays in different roles and masters them."
Martinez occasionally errs on the side of hyperbole but there is no doubt that if Hodgson can find a way to harness Barkley's talent into his England side - and trust his game management against international sides of the highest class - he will increase his chances of success at Euro 2016.
John Stones (defender, 21)
The sight of John Stones gesturing to Everton fans gathered at the Park End to calm down demonstrated the youngster's confidence. It came after a heart-stopping dribble in and out of his own six-yard area while pursued by Spurs attackers in the closing moments.
It may occasionally be his downfall, and he might have done better when Alli collected a raking long pass from Alderweireld, but here Everton and England have a defender containing the perfect profile for modern 21st century football.
Stones not only went into battle with England colleague Kane but he was also prepared to step in and bring the ball out of defence in both halves - there is never a hurried clearance when the option to find a team-mate is on.
He has missed the influence of injured Everton captain Phil Jagielka, although this is no slight on Argentine Ramiro Funes Mori who played well against Spurs, and this has been a testing period as Martinez's side have leaked badly in conceding 29 goals this season.
Martinez said: "I thought John and Ramiro delivered a strong partnership and our defensive intensity was much better because we have been conceding too many goals at home."
Stones showed the class and composure that makes him England's most coveted defender and why Chelsea were prepared to pay up to £38m in the summer - and his importance to Everton means he will be going nowhere in January.
The Euros will provide the perfect showcase, although no-one should assume Everton will be tempted into a sale any more next summer than they were this summer, and he should be a certain England starter in France.
Harry Kane (striker, 22)
Not one of Kane's more fruitful days but he still rattled the post with a superb 25-yard angled effort early on, and it took a couple of desperate last-ditch tackles to deny him in the second half.
Kane never gives up the fight and has such a natural goalscorers' instinct that barely a game goes by without him getting a chance, hence 11 Premier League goals in 20 appearances this season.
With Wayne Rooney's days as a spearhead striker looking numbered and the fitness of Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge completely unreliable, Kane has every chance to carve a permanent place in Hodgson's Euro 2016 plans as well as help Spurs to at least a place in the top four.
Kane is part of the talented group Martinez believes can help England to make a real impact in the Euros.
Martinez said: "I think there is now such a good young group of players such as Ross Barkley, John Stones, Dele Alli and Harry Kane and they all offer something that is very, very different.
"It is important they play in games like this one. They can develop and it can be a learning experience. The talent is certainly there for England as they look ahead to the Euros."