Inexperienced England stifle, earn admirable draw vs. full-strength Brazil
LONDON -- Here are three points from Wembley as England and Brazil played out a 0-0 draw in an international friendly.
1. Goalless draw uneventful but not pointless
Two friendlies, 180 minutes, 20 players used and no goals. Those bare facts might lead you to conclude that England's two games over this last week have been a waste of time. That would be the negative spin, but the positive is that Gareth Southgate's severely depleted side have not lost to two of the favourites for next summer's World Cup.
The 0-0 draw with Brazil at Wembley on Tuesday night will perhaps not live long in the memory and didn't provide many scintillating moments, but it was another worthwhile exercise for Southgate's men as they prepare for Russia 2018. It's tricky to draw too many conclusions, but there was certainly enough there to provide some encouragement.
Southgate made as many changes from the friendly against Germany last week that his limited squad would allow. Joe Hart returned in goal while Marcus Rashford partnered Jamie Vardy up front, and Joe Gomez made his full international debut at the back.
The early stages had the slight feel of a reasonably competitive exhibition game, with Neymar in particular seemingly very keen to produce something spectacular: in the first half-an-hour alone he aimed for the top corner from way, way out three times, missing by wide margins each time. For England, Rashford looked the most threatening while Ruben Loftus-Cheek, so impressive on his debut against Germany, showed some nice touches before being forced off with injury after around 30 minutes, replaced by Jesse Lingard.
England's young side -- six of the 10 outfield starters were younger than 25 -- showed some encouraging poise and calmness in the face of the expected rapid attacks from Brazil. The three-man defence was almost sliced open a few times, but Southgate's team coped reasonably well in the initial exchanges.
Brazil did much more attacking after the break, and for much of the first 25 minutes after half-time England were pinned back into their own half, the forwards forced to feed on scraps. The plus side for Southgate was that they did actually defend quite well, coping with the attacks with great poise.
In fact, there wasn't a whole lot of genuine incident. Dani Alves took considerable exception to a relatively innocuous tackle from Jake Livermore and might have been sent off if the referee had seen the kick he aimed at the England man's knees. Substitute Fernandinho hit the post after a driving run from around 25 yards out, then substitute Ashley Young produced a brilliant block after Willian looked to have a clear sight of goal on the left side of the area.
England made a few late attacks, but frankly never really looked like scoring. Neither team could break through, but that doesn't necessarily mean that this was a pointless endeavour.
2. Inexperienced England show blueprint
Aside from providing a very pleasant top-up for the FA's coffers, this game provided some useful practice for Southgate's side, ahead of next summer's World Cup.
In Russia, they will broadly be playing against technically superior teams who will be expected to do much of the attacking. England of course have a decent selection of players, but against the better teams in the world they won't have enough to take the initiative.
Brazil are certainly one of those teams, so this was an opportunity to see how they would fare sitting back, soaking up pressure and trying to hit teams on the break. The three-man defence, which Southgate now seems wedded to, is probably a good system for that approach: when under pressure it can become a back five, and as long as there's enough pace in the rest of the side to make those counters incisive enough, it's an approach that could work for England.
Against Brazil they certainly got the defensive part right. Aside from a couple of relatively minor wobbles the back three of Gomez, John Stones and the impressive Harry Maguire dealt with three of the world's finest attackers pretty well. So much so that, despite Brazil having the majority of the attacking play, Hart didn't have too many saves to make.
The attack, they might have to work a little more on. Of course, of the midfielders and forwards that started this game, only Eric Dier and possibly Marcus Rashford will be in Southgate's first-choice XI, but on the occasions when England did get forwards the strikers looked very isolated. When the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling and others are back, they will have a more potent attack.
But there are signs of encouragement there. A little more offensive invention will be required if England don't want to rely on penalties.
3. Brazil finally at full strength
If Tite's transformation of the Brazil side over the last 18 months hasn't been remarkable enough, it's also worth noting that he's managed to turn around a team previously managed by Dunga and scarred by the 2014 World Cup, without his first-choice team.
At some point or other at least one of his favoured XI has been absent for some reason, with injuries minor or major, but against England that favoured XI finally came together. The front three of Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus will probably start in Russia, backed up by a solid but not sluggish midfield three of Renato Augusto, Paulinho and Casemiro, and the defence basically picks itself.
A couple of changes might be made (Fernandinho replaced Augusto in this game and could do the same before Russia), but otherwise this was Brazil at full strength. Obviously it's difficult to properly assess them as a team given the nature of the fixture, but there was enough here to provide some hope. They certainly look a far more organised outfit than the one that was so humiliated on home turf back in 2014.
The combination of that fluid front line along with the late runs from midfield, exploiting the space created by those attackers, will cause plenty of problems next summer. This really is a Brazil team that could live up to some of its predecessors.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.