Spain 2-0 England: 'Hodgson's team played like FA Cup minnows'

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
England showed frailties against Spain - Graeme le Saux

England's unbeaten run stretched back 17 months to the damp day in Sao Paulo when two goals from Luis Suarez gave Uruguay victory and sent Roy Hodgson's side out of the World Cup.

The stroll through 10 straight victories in Euro 2016 qualifying was commendable and offered warmth - but the cold shower inevitably came with the best opposition they have faced since that nadir in Brazil.

Spain's 2-0 win beneath the steepling stands of Alicante's Estadio Jose Rico Perez was as predictable as it was comfortable - so what can Hodgson and England take from the defeat?

A timely lesson

England's effort can be described as "plucky" - rather in the manner of an inferior FA Cup minnow hanging on and hoping for the best against a superior opponent until resistance is eventually broken.

As far as the Fifa rankings can be taken seriously, England are ninth and many would regard that as generous given their failure at the World Cup and with a renewal built on the back of a favourable Euro 2016 draw.

In real terms, England are not a member of world football's elite and have not been for some time. They are strictly second tier.

We've got work to do - Roy Hodgson

This defeat, and the ease with which Spain inflicted it, may simply be the reality check that was always coming once England met a very good side. It was a night when their place in the game's order was emphasised.

It also put any growing optimism about England's aspirations in France next summer firmly into context. They can travel with hope but the lid should be kept on expectations.

Hodgson left captain Wayne Rooney out and the side carried an experimental air but perhaps this is simply where they currently stand, namely beneath that top level - look at how brutally Arsenal were exposed in that 5-1 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

If good can come of defeat, it was in getting a close-quarters look at the standards of possession, movement and quality England need to somehow achieve, or at least get closer to achieving, before next summer.

It was always suggested England may learn more from friendlies ahead of Euro 2016 than they would from the games that actually got them there. This was a case in point and if England take lessons away from Alicante, defeat will not have been in vain.

Why Hodgson must be brave

No-one would suggest for one minute that manager Roy Hodgson should throw caution to the wind against a team of Spain's creative talents - but this was simply too conservative, especially in a friendly.

England had hoped to hit Spain on the counter-attack but they sat too far back and it is hard to see the streetwise opponents they may meet at the sharp end of Euro 2016 being too troubled by the idea of Hodgson's side flooring them with a sudden, unexpected blow if this is their approach.

They had the appearance of a team that did not truly believe they could win, that they were naturally Spain's inferiors - an attitude even more likely to lead to defeat in a major tournament than it is in a friendly.

England do have flair and it will be a key component of Hodgson's job to harness it before next summer.

Ross Barkley (l) and John Stones
Will Roy Hodgson be brave enough to play Everton duo Ross Barkley and John Stones at next summer's finals?

Would Hodgson "risk" Everton's gloriously gifted Ross Barkley if England were starting a Euro 2016 game tomorrow against a tournament favourite? A personal view is that he would not.

And yet Barkley was one of the England players who looked like he might flourish in the Spain side, his passing crisp and one turn and run in the first half drawing applause from the home fans.

Raheem Sterling, if he can get consistency, offers pace on the break while a defensive pairing of Chris Smalling and John Stones is young and rich in promise.

Why Hodgson did not use this partnership against Spain is a complete mystery. Manchester United's Phil Jones actually did reasonably well against Diego Costa but now is the time to be pairing Smalling and Stones against the best to bed them in, or at least discover how much they need to improve.

This was a missed opportunity on many levels.

England should have arrived in Spain with a confidence overload after their qualifying campaign and yet they were callow and timid.

Fortune favours the brave - and if Hodgson and England are not brave in France they will get nowhere.

Negligent in possession - again

Possession is nine tenths of the law - or so the old saying goes - and yet England remain guilty of criminal negligence when they most need to be obeying the adage.

It was infuriating, as it has been on many occasions watching England against superior opposition, squandering possession with alarming regularity. It has been one of their worst, and most lingering, flaws.

Not only is this demoralising for England but it is also tiring, making the late goals from Mario Gaspar and Santi Cazorla even more predictable.

One passage of play in the first half summed up England's predicament and its dangers. Fabian Delph, trying to find Sterling with a simple pass, over-hit it with a lack of finesse and Gerard Pique's shot was deflected just wide.

Fabian Delph
England's midfield were once again guilty of giving away possession cheaply in Spain

Possession is priceless at this level and this is something England do not seem to be able to come to terms with.

Spain moved the ball around at pace with precision while England laboured. Michael Carrick, celebrated for his use of the ball in possession at Manchester United, looked anonymous and horribly out of his depth - a symbol of their struggles in Alicante.

Once more, if the penny does not drop England's outside chances of making a mark in France will recede even further into the distance.

Answering your questions

After the defeat in Alicante I took part in a Q and A on Match of the Day's Facebookexternal-link page.

Here's a selection of some of the best questions and how I answered them:

Haytham Hendow: Based on tonight's performance, what is the future of the England football team, both at the Euros and next World Cup cycle?

Phil: Tough to base anything on one game Haytham, but this was a night when England were shown just how far they have to go. They cannot be regarded as serious contenders for a major tournament unless there is a dramatic, unexpected, improvement.

Paul Golding: Has there been a worse pool of players for an England manager to pick from since Graham Taylor's tenure? Could Tony Daley and Carlton Palmer make it into this team?

Phil: I think there is a decent pool of players to pick from Paul... I worry about the lack of a holding, defensive midfield player because Carrick can't have too many more chances and I hope England will be bolder than this, otherwise they have no chance in France.

Jolan Wright: Why is Fabregas turning up for Spain and not for Chelsea?

Phil: He certainly looked like a different player tonight didn't he? Maybe just a change of scenery and playing in a team that is not struggling badly.

Rick Fox: What changes to the England setup would you make?

Phil: I think Hodgson is selecting the best players available but the approach tonight was so negative. It looked as if he would have been elated with a draw. It was a friendly and while I'm not suggesting throwing caution to the wind, where was the boldness, the attacking intent? Nowhere - and that was disappointing.