England, Germany settle for 0-0 draw that revealed little about either side
LONDON -- Here are three points from England's 0-0 draw with Germany at Wembley in an international friendly.
1. Little to be learned from scoreless draw
In March 2016, England thrillingly came from behind to beat Germany 3-2 in a friendly that raised hopes of potential glory in that summer's international tournament. Three months later, they were thrust, blinking and bewildered, back to reality after losing to Iceland at the European Championships. The lesson is that lessons can rarely be learned from these games, and one wonders what of much substance Gareth Southgate took from this 0-0 draw between the two sides at Wembley.
Southgate will have been encouraged by good performances by debutants Jordan Pickford and man-of-the-match Ruben Loftus-Cheek, while Kieran Trippier impressed on the right and the 3-4-3 formation deployed looks increasingly like it will be a fixture. But this was another night of little consequence, a friendly that was mildly diverting but little more than that.
Injury withdrawals meant that this was an unfamiliar England lineup: one would imagine that of Friday's starters, only Eric Dier, John Stones, Danny Rose and possibly Pickford will begin their first game at next summer's World Cup. Still, there were debuts for Tammy Abraham, Loftus-Cheek, Pickford and, after a first-half injury to Phil Jones, Joe Gomez. These are the first graduates from England's wildly successful youth teams of the past 18 months, which was at least of some interest to a nearly full Wembley. Joachim Loew matched England's 3-4-3, featuring a cavalier choice of Mesut Ozil in a central midfield two.
Abraham almost put England in front during the first two minutes, just failing to get on the end of a cross from the left by Jamie Vardy. Leroy Sane nearly gave Germany the lead after 20 minutes, rattling the bottom inch of the bar from the edge of the box before becoming one of three Germans who missed golden chances inside the area. Pickford saved superbly from Werner, Jones blocked Sane's follow-up on the line, and then Julian Draxler sliced a third effort over.
Pickford again excelled himself just before half-time, diving superbly to save a low, powerful Werner effort after large holes appeared in the England defence. A few minutes later, Abraham very nearly scored his first international goal when his shot from the edge of the box took a heavy deflection and trickled inches past the post.
But this was a game that conformed to the theory of a friendly between two much-changed teams. Uncertainty and unfamiliarity caused some entertaining chaos, and a few fringe players -- most notably Loftus-Cheek and Pickford -- furthered their causes with some lively displays.
A few minutes into the second half saw Vardy come close, with his fine header brilliantly saved by Marc-Andre ter Stegen. A few more chances came, but the inevitable procession of substitutions didn't help with the flow of the game, which was already disrupted and stilted. Germany probably looked marginally the better team but the first 45 minutes didn't live up to the promise of the first.
Jesse Lingard had a late chance to win it, firing over from the edge of the 6-yard box with the last kick of the game. But those in attendance soon shuffled out into the London night, no wiser about England's future prospects than when they shuffled in.
2. Time for Pickford to replace Hart between the posts
The interesting thing about England's run-up to next summer's World Cup is that very little is certain. Southgate probably has an idea of his starting XI, but apart from a few obvious names, little is set in stone. A few positions are up for grabs, perhaps no more so than goalkeeper.
Joe Hart has been the incumbent since before Euro 2012, but in the past couple years, it has become increasingly difficult to justify his automatic selection. Yet he has retained the starting job broadly due to a lack of viable alternatives: Jack Butland has been injury-prone, Ben Foster has been overlooked, and Fraser Forster has no place near an international team.
But now there is a credible candidate in Pickford. Both Hart and Pickford are playing for struggling Premier League teams, but one looks like the only thing between his side and complete oblivion, while the other seems to be a key part of the problem. Pickford's form for Everton justified his inclusion for this game on merit, not just the rotation that international friendlies bring.
On the basis of his showing against Germany, he should stay there. Pickford was assured and assertive (aside from an early wobble when he was nearly dispossessed by Timo Werner), and he made a couple of excellent diving saves. In short, he was everything that Hart thinks he is -- or at least was, once upon a time.
Dropping Hart would represent a big statement for a manager already with enough things to worry about, but whatever one might say about Southgate, he doesn't shy away from big decisions. This should be his latest.
3. Sane stands out for low-key Germany
It's no surprise to anyone with a passing interest in the Premier League, but Sane is some player. Perhaps the one thing that a generation of remarkable German talent has lacked is an attacker with raw pace, which Sane has, but he's so much more than that.
Nominally a left-winger, Sane stalks the pitch looking for space, sniffing out pockets of it, regardless of the defence he's facing. Against England, there were more than a few of those openings, but Sane seemed to be more of a looming menace, a floating wasp who could sting when he wanted but didn't quite feel like it.
Sane provided one of the key moments of quality in the first half, whipping a brilliant shot from the edge of the area that dipped at the last minute and thumped the underside of the crossbar. Another inch of travel, and it would have been a goal of the sort Sane has shown he can conjure, a player with the capability to offer moments of delicate skill but also the hammer shot of someone who can cut through the treacle and leather a shot home when he likes.
This was a Germany side who, perhaps understandably, were playing at 80 percent in the knowledge that greater challenges lie ahead and energy should thus be conserved. They also weren't at full strength, with the likes of Thomas Mueller and Toni Kroos absent. Nevertheless, Sane showed why he could be one of their key weapons as they defend their World Cup title next summer in Russia.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.