Harry Kane scored a hat-trick to ensure England sailed to a 4-0 victory over Bulgaria at Wembley.
The Euro 2020 Qualifying group is in its early stages, but England have already asserted their dominance in a group that isn’t expected to unsettle the Three Lions.
Gareth Southgate’s men have made a flawless start to their campaign; scoring 14 and only conceding one so far.
Bulgaria, however, have made a less than impressive start by drawing two and losing three of their opening five games in qualifying.
Story of the game
Defensive Bulgaria frustrate Three Lions
Bulgaria set out their stalls early on, playing a 5-4-1 formation with a rigid defensive shape.
With the visitors using this shape in an attempt to combat the hosts attacking armoury, England showed their intent from early on with some quick passing in the final third, however, it was the visitors who were the first to test Jordan Pickford. A lovely move from Ivan Popov was played forward to Wanderson, whose low shot from inside the box was straight at the Everton man.
After this early scare, England responded through Kane; Ross Barkley played a searching pass to Raheem Sterling who took a touch and played to Kane, he dispatched beyond Plamen Iliev, but it was disallowed for offside.
In truth, England’s first half performance was lethargic and they struggled to trouble Bulgaria defensively through a lack of movement and complacency in possession.
Kane strikes first
England did take the lead in the 24th minute, though. Bulgaria were punished after goalkeeper Plamen Iliev gifted possession to Sterling and he teed up Kane to side foot home.
After England took the lead, the floodgates were expected to open, however, Bulgaria grew in stature and came close to equalising early in the second half. Wanderson played a sharp one-two with Da Costa beyond the England defence, but his thumping left footed effort reduced Pickford to a smart save.
This scare proved to be what kicked in England into gear, they countered from Pickford’s save through the pace of Marcus Rashford, he committed Budarov into the area and was caught by a trailing leg to award England a penalty. Kane dispatched the resulting spot-kick convincingly into the right corner.
Comfortable in the end
England continued to notch up the intensity and it seemed Southgate urged his wingers to stay wide with the third arriving from the left side.
Kane dispossessed the Bulgarian backline and was eventually found by Rashford on the left; he squared to Sterling who chested the ball into an open net.
England completed the scoring with another penalty; Kane’s initial shot was blocked, but he latched onto the rebound, only to be tripped by the clumsy Kristian Dimitrov.
The England captain stepped up and dispatched his penalty into opposite corner to complete his hat-trick and make it 25 goals in 40 appearances for country.
Takeaways From The Match
England need to guard against complacency against better opposition
Despite winning by a comfortable margin, Gareth Southgate wouldn’t have been pleased with his sides first half display. The home side did rectify for that in the second half, though.
The few chances that England gifted to Bulgaria went unpunished, however, against an opposition with more quality, England would have been in trouble.
Southgate needs to alternate his youthful side
In this qualifying group, Southgate has the perfect opportunity to hand youth the much needed experience at international level.
Mason Mount made a late introduction off the bench, whilst James Maddison was an unused substitute.
With Jason Sancho also starting on the bench, it highlights the quality that Southgate has at his disposal and provides the coach with a positive selection headache.
England’s next game is on Tuesday night against a second placed Kosovo side who are currently 15 unbeaten, whilst Bulgaria face Republic of Ireland in a friendly at the Aviva Stadium.