England vs Spain: Adam Lallana, Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling offer a glimpse into a bright future

John Stones' defensive decisions, however, continue to concern

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The Independent Online

Even when England led and promised a special victory, theirs was not always the Spanish method made flesh.

In the depths of this stadium on Friday night, Gareth Southgate had spelt out his frustration with John Stones’ indiscriminate playing out from the back and the 22-year-old’s hospital pass to Eric Dier as the first half reached its conclusion suggested that the message had not registered one bit. When Dier was dispossessed, an animated Gary Cahill gestured to the spot, 20 yards up-field, where the defender ought to have delivered the ball to safety. The episode confirmed the concern that Stones’ game intelligence is taking time to develop, much though his Manchester City manager is indicating privately that that the 22-year-old will move beyond his propensity to be uncomfortably cavalier.

But for all that, we’ve come some distance since Fabio Capello told the Football Association that there was no point in his England team trying to imitate the style in which Spain had conquered the world. There were moments of such intelligent exchange of the ball that you felt Gareth Southgate’s talk of a new England and their possession-based game could be more than another false dawn.

The performances to remember came from Adam Lallana and Jesse Lingard – players who, with Raheem Sterling, look like the core of a side on which the next England might be built.

A 24-minute cameo was all that Lallana needed to demonstrate again why he is currently the nation’s outstanding footballer. A year ago he seemed too lacking in muscularity to be a Jurgen Klopp player, though they will tell you on Merseyside that he now adds the pace, the energy and the unexpected into the Liverpool midfield. This was no different. The pass he bent around Martinez to find Vardy and win a penalty was only the half of it. Drifting right from the position he was nominally allocated behind the striker, Lallana was the at the leading edge of England’s high pressing game, dispossessing Thiago in the blink of an eye and panicking the Spaniard into conceding a free kick. It seemed to be the Klopp influence incarnate: evidence as those who watched Spain flourish for so long that the silky possession is underpinned by cold steel.

You know a player is at peak confidence when he seizes the ball for the penalty kick he has just won and – impervious to any designs the centre forward may have had on taking it – dispatches it high beyond the goalkeeper, Pepe Reina.

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Stones' defending will be of concern for England

When Lallana had limped off after an injury under a Thiago challenge, Lingard took up where he had left off. He blends touch and aggression, too. The deft reverse pass - sending Sterling racing into the area for a cross Vardy could not reach – demonstrated how he deals in tight spaces. So, too, the ball he squeezed through to Walcott from a tight space in front of the Spanish box – the forward’s finish was weak – told that he is also the face of Southgate's future.

The same cannot be said of Vardy. His poacher’s goal was welcome but he still looked like a shadow of the individual who took the nation by storm a year back – lucky to be on the field after a ghastly follow through on Cezar Azpileuta in the opening moments and bereft of the trigger response to what the line of three behind him created. Neither did Theo Walcott thrill when he arrived in Lallana’s place. We will still look in for the unexpected, game-changing moments from him for England and they still do not come.

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Lingard slipped effortlessly into Lallana's shoes (Getty)

When Marcus Rashford arrived in Vardy’s place, haring around the back of the penalty area with the ball at his feet, as we are wont to see him do, and drawing a foul, another piece seemed to fall into place. The case for him leading the forward line will soon become irresistible.

The weakness in Stones revealed itself again in the manner of a shocking Spanish comeback. Iago Aspas toyed with the centre half before steering the ball beyond him into the net. It was Dier whom the same forward ran in ahead of to equalise. Such are the weakness to fix. Yet there was a sense of spirit, of new beginnings and a long forgotten feeling that England can make the pulse quicken.

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