England began their Euro 2020 campaign with a 1-0 victory over Croatia at Wembley on Sunday afternoon – and Gareth Southgate’s surprising selections all paid off.
Raheem Sterling was trusted to perform despite his underwhelming season with Manchester City, while his choices in midfield and left back also raised some eyebrows on social media pre-match.
In the end, it was Sterling who netted the only goal of the game and the Three Lions delivered a solid enough performance to secure a crucial three points.
Here, Sportsmail’s experts CHRIS SUTTON, MARTIN KEOWN and STEPH HOUGHTON give their thoughts on how the match played out…
England started Euro 2020 in perfect fashion with Raheem Sterling netting to down Croatia
CHRIS SUTTON – Southgate’s calls were proven to be correct
Even before England’s Euro 2020 opener got going, the hashtag ‘SouthgateOut’ was trending on Twitter.
Upon seeing the team sheet, I didn’t agree with playing right back Kieran Trippier at left back, but I would never stop supporting Gareth Southgate because of that.
Thankfully for England’s manager, the end justified the means. One by one, Southgate’s calls were proven to be correct.
Kalvin Phillips was the best player on the field and had proved what a complete footballer he is
The first mistake he made — according to the court of social media – was naming two holding midfielders in Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips. In actual fact, Phillips was positioned much higher than Rice and being used as more of a No 8.
The Leeds United midfielder was the best player on the park here, showing what a wonderfully complete footballer he is and assisting Raheem Sterling’s winner. So let’s say that’s Southgate 1, social media 0.
His next mistake was starting Sterling rather than Jack Grealish. He has not enjoyed his greatest of seasons for Manchester City, with Pep Guardiola using him infrequently of late. But Sterling was behind England’s winner.
I’m not saying Grealish would not have made the same run, but all that matters is Sterling did and it’s a winning start to Euro 2020. That’s Southgate 2, social media 0.
Sterling started ahead of Jack Grealish and justified his selection with the second-half winner
We could make it 3-0 by mentioning why he was right to use Tyrone Mings, who had a good game. Or 4-0 for trusting Trippier over a perfectly good Luke Shaw or Ben Chilwell.
We all have our own ideas of team selection but at the end of the day, it’s the England manager whose decisions matter. He sees these players every day in training. He knows better than us what they can and cannot do.
In securing a 1-0 win against a solid Croatia side, Southgate must be applauded. He made brave decisions, he trusted his instincts, and England won.
MARTIN KEOWN – England managing Kane for the long haul
In their analysis of the 2018 World Cup, England noticed how the eventual winners, France, started Antoine Griezmann in every game but didn’t make him play a full 90 minutes until the semi-final and final.
Gareth Southgate and his staff have taken that on board as they look to manage Harry Kane this time around. England aren’t planning on a short stay, they want to see the very end. Kane was taken off after 82 minutes here; all being well, his first 90 will come once England return to Wembley for the semis.
Including Kane, the front six who started against Croatia were the same as those who Southgate started against Albania and Poland in the World Cup qualifiers in March.
England aren’t planning on a short stay at the Euros and are managing Harry Kane’s workload
This combination — of Kane, Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Mason Mount, Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice — wasn’t just thrown together for this opener against Croatia.
Southgate trusted what he saw from those players against Albania and Poland and stood by that plan. It worked, too. The sight of Phillips’s name on the team sheet was met with surprise by some — as was Sterling’s.
But Phillips put in the best performance I’ve seen from him in an England shirt and he assisted Sterling for his winner. He and Mount knew when to press and when to help Rice.
At the back, Tyrone Mings filled in for Harry Maguire and dealt with the enormity of the occasion.
John Stones was dominant at the back and clearly the leader as England kept a clean sheet
John Stones was dominant and clearly the leader in the backline. On the left, the experienced Kieran Trippier helped the less experienced Mings. England’s defence didn’t present any opportunities to Croatia.
This victory and clean sheet can seriously lift the team. If you don’t win your opener, when the expectation is already huge given the build-up, the second game becomes even bigger. Thankfully, England won 1-0 in the end.
The pressure remains, but it’s a nicer pressure. They can find freedom in their work now. Southgate will accept the plaudits coming his players’ way and use it in the right way, I’m sure.
STEPH HOUGHTON – Sterling produces in an England shirt
A thoroughly deserved win for England and a great start to the tournament. For the whole of the game, they controlled the tempo and possession, they were solid in defence and limited Croatia to few chances.
They showed their intent in the first 20 minutes. They wanted to press hard, be aggressive and catch Croatia on the counter — shown by Phil Foden’s early chance.
England will be happy with the performance going into the next game against Scotland. It was a really well-worked goal for Raheem Sterling. He stretched their backline, made runs in behind and made it difficult for Croatia all afternoon.
Sterling made life difficult for Croatia all afternoon and produces his best playing for England
When Sterling pulls on an England shirt, he produces his best performances and I’m really pleased for him.
Kalvin Phillips was outstanding – breaking up play, getting aggressive against Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic – he covered every blade of the Wembley grass.
Hopefully, they can take this confidence and momentum into Scotland.