While England might have made the trip out to Budapest on Saturday tipped as a leading pick to open their Nations League campaign with a flurry, it was an evening to forget for Gareth Southgate’s side.
Looking to keep up their momentum ahead of this year’s World Cup finals, the Three Lions were eventually hit with what was a disappointing 1-0 defeat at the Puskás Aréna.
After watching their extended unbeaten run come to an abrupt end on foreign soil, there is no
doubt that Hungary will feel that they deserved to leave Budapest with a historic victory here.
With Southgate electing to hand a couple of debutants their chance to impress, we have taken a look at the main talking points as England opened their Nations League campaign with a sluggish display.
Southgate’s formation fails
Last seen picking up a 3-0 romp against the Ivory Coast in a friendly contest back in March, England had gained plenty of praise from the way that they bounced back from last summer’s heartbreak at Wembley.
Coming just the kick of a ball away from claiming their first international crown since 1966, Southgate’s side made the trip out to Hungary on Saturday evening in the midst of a nine-match unbeaten run.
However, while the Three Lions might be tipped as one of the standout picks out in Qatar for later in the year, there is no doubt that Southgate’s tactical alterations didn’t work here.
Making the decision to go with a five at the back, something the one-time Aston Villa defender has only done a handful of times over recent times, England really failed to find any fluidity on Saturday evening.
Putting in what appeared to be a leggy display on foreign soil, the Whites failed to ask any real questions of Péter Gulácsi’s goal and Southgate will accept that the blame falls firmly on his shoulders.
With such a quick turnaround during their stacked Nations League campaign over the next week, England and Southgate will be desperate to prove that Saturday’s display was just a minor blip.
A famous night for Hungary
While England’s sluggish display here might steal most of the headlines, Hungary deserve plenty of praise for what will be long remembered as a famous display in Budapest.
Despite managing to snatch a 1-1 draw when they made the trip to Wembley on World Cup qualifying duties eight months ago, few from across Europe would have expected Marco Rossi’s men to cause another upset here.
However, putting in a gritty performance and not fazed by England’s star-studded squad, RB Leipzig’s Dominik Szoboszlai didn’t pass up on a golden chance from the penalty spot midway through the second-half.
With referee Artur Manuel Soares Dias somewhat lightly judging that Reece James had impeded Ádám Nagy, Szoboszlai calmly slotted past Jordan Pickford and clinched Hungary’s first victory against England since 1962.
Nevertheless, while Rossi’s side might have impressed with their display on the pitch here, there is no doubt that questions will be asked about the fact they were allowed 30,000 fans in attendance at short notice.
Hungary invoked Uefa’s Article 73 to invite children aged 14 and under to the game, who had to be accompanied by an adult. This is despite being handed a sanction for racist and homophobic behaviour by Hungary’s fans during Euro 2020.
How did England’s debutants get on?
While many across England might have been shocked to have seen Southgate elect to go with a five at the back, there also could have been some shocked by the 51-year-old’s decision to hand two full debutants.
However, handing West Ham’s Jarrod Bowen and Leicester’s James Justin their first caps, it was a mixed evening for England’s latest international stars.
Picking up an early knock and having to be replaced at half-time by Bukayo Saka, James struggled to adapt to his role at left wing-back and the 24-year-old will be hoping that he gets another chance to show what he can do.
Despite James’ struggles in Southgate’s new-look defence, Bowen left Budapest after a tireless display that saw him gain plenty of plaudits.
Continuing on what has been a hugely impressive campaign with West Ham after notching himself 12 Premier League strikes as the Hammers also reached the semi-finals of this year’s Europa League.
Given the full 90 minutes by Southgate and the only real threat that England offered in the final third, the ex-Hull winger showed glimpses as to why the likes of Liverpool are reportedly eyeing a potential swoop this summer.
Hungary: Gulácsi, Lang, Orban, Szalai, Nego, Nagy, Schäfer, Nagy, Sallai, Szoboszlai, Szalai
Subs: Styles, Kleinheisler, Fiola, Vecsei, Adam
England: Pickford, Walker, Coady, Maguire, Alexander-Arnold, Bellingham, Rice, Just, Bowen, Kane, Mount
Subs: Stones, Phillips, James, Saka, Grealish
Goals: Szoboszlai (66′)
Yellow Cards: Hungary: Schäfer – England: James, Maguire
Red Cards: N/A
Referee: Artur Manuel Soares Dias
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