Gareth Southgate may have new undroppable after England beat Albania

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Gareth Southgate may have new undroppable after England beat Albania
Luke Shaw marked his return from the international wilderness after three and a half years’ absence by delivering with silver platter and white gloves for England last night.
All great strikers need great service and the cross which invited Harry Kane to end his England drought and put Gareth Southgate’s side on course for victory in Tirana was a ball that had ‘despatch me’ written in bold red capitals upon it.

Kane duly obliged with a flourish but the England captain will know he owed a debt of gratitude to the re-born, recalled Shaw.

It was in truth a drab, underwhelming encounter but the one elevated moment of clarity from Shaw showed why he is back on the scene.

Like England, the Manchester United full-back was not perfect – he looked a little hesitant early on in his willingness to stretch the Albanians and gave possession away with a poor touch on one occasion – but in his left foot he has a weapon of defensive destruction and he detonated it expertly just when his side needed it.

Up to that point they had been struggling to unpick the stubborn five-man home rearguard with the fast-flowing passing game of San Marino slowed to a trickle by their reluctance to move possession forward quickly and the long grass at the Air Albania Stadium.

A request to give it a short back and sides by England ahead of the game had been politely rejected by the wily Albanian manager Edy Reja.

Grass-roots football was back ahead of schedule.

Strong growth is evidently all the rage in Albania these days, a country where beards were once outlawed under the eccentric Enver Hoxha regime. Facial hair is plentiful in the current Albanian line-up.

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Shaw favours the stubbly look, a burly gunslinger down the left for club – and now country – again.

Cool Hand Luke has been one of Manchester United’s most consistent contributors this season and his recall was well deserved even if England’s glut of possession meant he spent the game effectively in midfield. Defensively, he went totally untested as the Surrey component in an otherwise all-Yorkshire back four.

Behind them Nick Pope did not have to make a single save. It took 78 minutes for Albania to win their first – and only – corner.

There is water to flow under the bridge ahead of the Euros – if Trent Alexander-Arnold can rediscover his form he may yet make a late run – but Sunday night’s underworked unit had the look of one Southgate may deploy if he chooses to go four a quarter rather than a quintet in tournament football.

Either way England will need a left-sided defender and it will be a close call with Ben Chilwell as to who wins the starting left-back role on Wednesday against Poland at Wembley.

Whoever does so will be in the box seat for the Euros.


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