England snatched a stoppage time victory over Slovakia on Sunday evening, thanks to Adam Lallana‘s first goal for his country.
For so long it looked as though Sam Allardyce’s first game as England manager would end in frustration, with the one-paced performance not dissimilar to those witnessed at Euro 2016.
Former Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel was sent-off in trademark fashion, picking up two yellow cards, one of which was for a callous stamp on Harry Kane.
He also avoided further bookings prior to his dismissal, further highlighting why Jurgen Klopp was right to get rid of him in the summer.
Having failed to break down a stubborn Slovakia rearguard for much of the second-half, it was left to Lallana to fire home in the final seconds, as England started their 2018 World Cup campaign with a win.
He was one of three Reds players to feature at Stadion Antona Malatinskeho.
Having been rather unsuccessfully deployed as a holding midfielder so far this season, it was always going to be interesting to see if Allardyce gave Jordan Henderson the same role.
It was Tottenham‘s Eric Dier who sat in front of the back-four, however, with Liverpool’s captain to the right of a midfield-three within a 4-3-3 formation.
This is unquestionably the role in which the 26-year-old most thrives in, and while his performance was a long way from spectacular, it will hopefully have given Klopp some food for thought.
Henderson’s greatest attribute is his non-stop energy and box-to-box ability in the middle of the park – something he has not been allowed to showcase in Liverpool’s opening three Premier League games.
Against Slovakia, however, we saw this in abundance.
There was a crispness to his passing that is often overlooked, and a number of off-the-ball runs from deep brought back memories of his attacking impact in 2013/14 and 2014/15.
One clever reverse pass to Raheem Sterling was made to look bad by the ex-Liverpool player’s decision not to run into the space, but it highlighted the underrated vision Henderson has at his disposal.
Similarly, one lovely cushioned pass to Lallana almost led to the Reds duo combining for the opening goal in the second-half.
In truth, Henderson’s influence did diminish as the match went on, and a lack of guile and invention became an issue against an increasingly well-drilled Slovakia side.
One long-range effort flew over the bar, but after 63 minutes, he was replaced by Dele Alli.
It wasn’t a performance that will win the hugely divisive midfielder any new admirers, but there was plenty of good from him, particularly in the opening 45 minutes.
Once Emre Can is back fully fit, the hope is that Klopp copies Allardyce – I never thought I’d write that – and pushes his skipper into a more attack-minded position.
After a bright start to the campaign, and having been one of the very few English players to perform acceptably at Euro 2016, Lallana was a shoo-in to start on Sunday.
His role was different to the deeper, central one Klopp has given him in the last month or so, though, with the 28-year-old starting on the left-hand side of a front-three.
From the first minute, he was one of the Three Lions’ sharpest players, with his usual blend of clever movement, technical quality and work-rate catching the eye.
It was by no means vintage Lallana – all of England’s players struggled to create in the final third from start to finish – but the positives easily outweighed the negatives.
Lallana’s versatility also shone through, with the former Southampton man switching sides with Sterling towards the end of the first-half onwards.
Whereas many struggle to shine on both flanks, Lallana looked equally happy on the right, and he continued to be one of the few bright sparks as the match went on.
One trademark Cruyff Turn allowed him the space to pull the trigger from 25 yards after the break, and he was desperately unlucky to see his left-footed shot cannon off the post and back out again.
The silky midfielder was then denied by goalkeeper Matus Kozacik, as debate over Lallana’s lack of ruthlessness in front of goal was in danger of becoming a talking point again.
Deep into stoppage time, however, he made himself the hero on the night and silenced some of the doubters, as his shot from inside the penalty area squeezed through the legs of Kozacik and into the net.
It was Lallana’s first goal for his country, and his celebration brought back fond memories of his last-gasp winner at Norwich City last season.
Lallana has deserved a moment like this more than any other England player in recent months, and his match-winning moment capped off a good day at the office.
He may not to be to everyone’s taste, but he is now a definite starter for club and country.
The first few weeks of the new season have been frustrating for Sturridge, with a lack of playing time at Liverpool making for plenty of debate.
The 27-year-old also had to make do with a place on the substitutes’ bench against Slovakia, with Kane preferred up front.
While it was hard to begrudge that decision, Sturridge still showed that he can offer more threat when introduced after the interval.
It was nothing special, by any means, but in an England side that looked largely one-dimensional, there was an unpredictability and imagination to his play that so few possess at international level.
He just failed to get on the end of a Theo Walcott cross, and curled straight at Kozacik from distance, while his touch and movement gave Slovakia’s defence constant problems.
One back-heel into the path of the marauding Danny Rose was classic Sturridge.
It wasn’t a cameo that will be remembered in years to come, but the usual class was there for all to see as soon as he entered the fray.
Klopp has his reasons for using the likes of Roberto Firmino and Divock Origi instead of him on occasions, but seeing a player of such world-class talent not featuring regularly for club and country is sad to see.