LONDON (Reuters) – It was a night of experimentation, a time to blood the youngsters in a game that could be the start of a new-look England team and a 0-0 draw with world champions Germany was a decent outcome.
Gareth Southgate’s side may have won eight of their 10 World Cup qualifying games and remained unbeaten in Group F but their performances were far from convincing.
England supporters must have been dreading the prospect of facing Germany on Friday after seven key players including Harry Kane and Dele Alli pulled out of the squad.
But Southgate has always had faith in the youngsters after working so closely with them when he was manager of the Under-21s and he made a big call by naming three debutants.
The stand-out performer was Ruben Loftus-Cheek who despite failing to break into the Chelsea first-team, showed he has the quality to compete on the international stage.
From the opening whistle, the 21-year-old looked composed and assured, and he is always looking to make things happen.
The England midfield has often been accused of lacking the creativity to unlock the opposition but with fitness concerns over Jack Wilshere and his failure to secure a regular place in the Arsenal team, Southgate could have finally found the answer to that problem.
Despite only making 12 Premier League appearances, Loftus-Cheek displays a kind of arrogance that makes him stand out.
There was one defining moment during the first half when he produced an impressive double nut-meg to flick the ball through the legs of Leroy Sane and had the audacity to do the same thing again seconds later to Marcel Halstenberg.
Loftus-Cheek is clearly enjoying a new lease of life following his season-long loan move to Crystal Palace and believes the best is yet to come.
“I certainly learned a lot, and it just gives me that taste, to want more, and to improve game-by-game. I just want to play more football,” the 21-year-old said.
“If we’d won it would have been better, but it was a tough game, and a good game from me to learn from.”
The stats make for good reading as Loftus-Cheek had a 96 percent pass completion rate, completing 50 successful passes out of 52.
But it was not just Loftus-Cheek who caught the eye.
The England goalkeeping position has been long-debated and Southgate clearly has a big call to make after he handed a debut to Jordan Pickford and the Everton keeper showed why he is rated so highly.
Pickford’s distribution was outstanding and he made several fine saves to keep the German forwards at bay.
For all the talk of the double header against Germany and Brazil being an anti-climax for England following the big-name withdrawals, this is proving to be a defining moment for Southgate.