Two assists and a goal ensured that Bukayo Saka could celebrate this performance in front of a 61,000 strong Wembley crowd on his birthday. The 20-year-old headed in England’s fourth goal against Andorra at the same end in which he endured penalty shoot-out heartache in the European Championship final in July.
This was England’s first game back at the national stadium since that disappointing final and the circumstances were rather different too. This was not Italy in a major competition but instead, the 156th ranked nation in a low-key World Cup qualifier.
A much-changed England side were expected to win handsomely without conceding and maintain their 100 per cent qualification record. It was a comfortable four-goal victory, amassing up to 88 per cent possession, but it was far from spectacular from Gareth Southgate’s side, who travel to Warsaw to face Poland on Wednesday.
Jesse Lingard scored a brace with Harry Kane, a second-half substitute, and Saka ensuring that England’s win had an element of gloss.
Story of the game
A large banner was unveiled behind the goal at Wembley before kick-off which called for Saka, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford to ‘Walk Tall’ after their penalty misses against Italy in Euro 2020. On the pitch, Southgate completely changed the team that defeated Hungary 4-0 on Thursday evening, the first time 11 changes have been made since 1982.
There was a debut for Leeds United striker Patrick Bamford and a start for third-choice goalkeeper Sam Johnstone. Most intriguingly, Liverpool right back Trent Alexander-Arnold was positioned on the right of a three-man midfield as Southgate tried the 23-year-old in a position which he has not played since his youth-team days.
Such wholesale alterations and experimentation meant that England lacked coherency against an Andorra team that sat deep and looked to make life difficult for Southgate’s men. Saka, playing on the left side of England’s attack, saw a shot defended by Chus Rubio after fine work by Jude Bellingham who was given a deserved start in midfield.
It was always going to be a case of when Andorra’s breaches broke then England should get their fill. On 18 minutes, Lingard received a cross from Saka before taking a touch and shooting low past Josep Gomes in the Andorra goal. The celebration of the Manchester Unitedattacker bore an element of resemblance to his new team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo.
Lingard had another goal ruled out for offside soon after while Bamford got into good positions to try and net on his first start for England. One of his headers teed up Conor Coady who missed the target with his over-head kick.
Alexander-Arnold was starting to find range with his passing and one such raking ball found Bellingham who saw an attempt hit the side-netting. Reece James then drilled over the crossbar as paper planes made a return to Wembley which possibly highlighted the underwhelming nature of the developments on the pitch.
More chances arrived after the interval with Bamford fluffing his lines and James, who had pushed up into midfield, fired against the bar, but Southgate had seen enough of his understudies and sent on Kane, Jack Grealish and Mason Mount in one fell swoop.
With just under 20 minutes remaining England doubled their lead when Mount was felled by Christian Garcia after being played in by Grealish, and Kane smashed in the penalty after a VAR check. That goal saw the England captain become the country’s joint-fifth highest goalscorer.
Andorra’s manager, Kolda, will have been content that his side had frustrated England for such a time, albeit without progressing up to Johnstone’s goal much at all. Lingard scored from the edge of the area in the 78th minute after collecting a pass from Saka, who then netted himself when Alexander-Arnold took a quick corner and the Arsenal player rose to meet it in a crowd.
A fine save by Gomes denied Kane a second goal. This was straightforward rather sublime from England.
No debut goal for Bamford
Unlike fellow strikers Callum Wilson, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Ollie Watkins, Patrick Bamford could not mark his England debut with a goal. There are plenty of contenders for the role of Harry Kane’s understudy but Bamford, who turned 28 on Sunday, will need more chances than this to impress.
While the service up to him was not great, he snatched at one good chance in the second half before being replaced by Kane just after the hour. Marcelo Bielsa has improved Bamford’s game in recent years, and some will say that the striker’s call-up to the England squad has been a long time coming as he scored 17 goals across all competitions for Leeds last season.
Although he couldn’t find one against Andorra to cap off his birthday debut, he should get another chance soon.
Alexander-Arnold experiment needs more time
When Alexander-Arnold first donned a pair of boots in vain, he did so in midfield. Now, aged 23, the Liverpool player is a world-renowned right back and has achieved Premier League and Champions League success in that position for his boyhood club. However, Southgate, trying to accommodate a surplus of high-quality right backs in to his team, has long believed Alexander-Arnold could reprise his role in midfield.
And so the experiment came in this low-key match against Andorra. Did it work? Partly, but there needs to be more time spent on it. The England manager urged him to bring his own interpretation to the role and it was a work in progress.
The Liverpool player did not look comfortable and struggled to influence the game. He deployed some nice passes and found Bellingham with one particularly well-executed ball. It helped that he was playing alongside Jordan Henderson who offered support in the deeper role.
Alexander-Arnold returned to his usual position in the second half, when Reece James made the switch to be trialled in midfield, and he will do the same when he is back with Liverpool next weekend. Alexander-Arnold’s attacking attributes may lend themselves to midfield but whether he moves there permanently is uncertain to say the least.
England manager Southgate said after the match that he hoped Saka had found ‘closure’ on his penalty miss in the Euro 2020 final by scoring on his Wembley return. Saka’s display was one of England’s best against Andorra and the crowd showed particular delight in the attacker’s goal.
“He got a fabulous reception before the game and during the game,” Southgate said of the Arsenal winger. “It is lovely, you can see how popular he is with the team as well. I hope [the goal brought] closure if it was needed, but I don't think there is a player in that dressing-room who thinks anything but positively about what he did all summer.
“From our perspective, he doesn’t need closure because the way he has progressed, he is a highly exciting player. I had a longer catch up a couple of days ago with him. I was mindful of him coming back to Wembley and I wanted to emphasise that my thoughts of him from the summer are all positive.”
Saka said that the goal ‘meant a lot’ after he had received racist abuse following his penalty miss against Italy in the final. “[The goal] really made a difference for me. Even now I can hear fans chanting my name. It means everything to me that I know they support me.
“This is what I dream about, playing at Wembley in front of my family and this crowd and scoring on my 20th birthday. The perfect birthday present for me. I am really happy we got the win and I can celebrate my birthday with this.”
Southgate also lavished praise on Lingard, who scored his first England goals since 2018. The England manager said: “I know at times there has been some criticism for including Jesse in squads, but he is just a player who has always played well for us and he’s always a threat on goal. He’s always been a reliable player for us and I felt he was the brightest spark, particularly in the first half.”
Top of World Cup qualifying Group I, having won all five of their games, England travel to Poland on Wednesday night and Southgate said: “It looks like they will be our nearest challengers and it is a great incentive if we can go to Warsaw and win, we can take control of this group.”
England: Johnstone; James (Grealish 62), Coady, Mings, Trippier; Alexander-Arnold, Henderson, Bellingham (Mount 62); Lingard, Saka, Bamford (Kane 62).
Andorra: Gomes; Jesus Rubio (M Garcia 74), Llovera, Vales, C Garcia, San Nicolas (Joan Cervos 86); Jordi Rubio, Rebes, Clemente (Martinez 75); M Vieira (Lima 86), Sanchez (Fernandez 66).
Referee: Anastasios Papapetrou (Greece).