World Cup – Sweden 0 – 2 England: Five things we learnt #ItsComingHome

Rapturous joy, thunderous applause and waistcoat sales are soaring – England have made it into a World Cup semi final. #ItsComingHome

The Three Lions’ 2-0 win against Sweden sees Gareth Southgate’s team into the last four for the first time since 1990 and joy is sweeping the nation.

In fact the only thing rising faster than the England team’s popularity are the music download rates for Frank Skinner and David Baddiel.

With a match up against Croatia awaiting the Three Lions on Wednesday here are five things we learnt from Saturday’s professional display against Sweden.

1) Harry Maguire rises high

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Source: The Guardian

A few months ago the inclusion of the Leicester City defender as an England starter would have been seen as something of a wild card pick.

However, the 25-year-old has more than risen to the occasion and that is not just limited to his goal against Sweden.

While his headed finish in the quarter final was mightily impressive there is much more to Maguire than brute force and power.

In possession he looks assured and England’s system allows him to step out with the ball and pick his passes.

Couple that with his defensive ability and Maguire has fast become an integral cog for his country.

2) Sterling continues to divide opinion – but is it all bad?

Embed from Getty Images

While popularity for this group of England players continues to grow one man who continues to get the marmite treatment is Raheem Sterling.

His performance against Sweden displayed all the attributes that people have been using to argue his exclusion from the starting XI – his passes can be wayward and his finishing still needs work at international level.

However, if you look closer at the Manchester City man’s contributions he is more than playing his part in England’s success.

The free role he has been given by Southgate allows Sterling to make crucial, darting runs and he remains adept at picking up the ball and driving at defenders.

In doing so his movements opens up space for a number of other England players.

Many may be calling for the likes of Marcus Rashford to take Sterling’s place but – while the goals may not be forthcoming – the 23-year-old stretches opposition defenders like no other.

3) The great wall of Pickford

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Before the tournament debate was still raging over who should be England’s number one.

Step forward Jordan Pickford who – after being given his chance by Southgate – has not looked back.

After a stunning set of saves against Colombia in normal time, and in the shootout, the Everton stopper was in similarly stunning form against the Swedes with three big saves in the second half.

His performance helped land him his first clean sheet of the tournament and he will need to maintain his form with the likes of Mario Mandzukic and Luka Modric peppering his goal in the next round.

4) Henderson’s stock is on the up

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The Liverpool captain has had his fair share of criticism over the past few years with a number of fans labeling him as a man who only passes sideways.

However, with Henderson given the nod ahead of Eric Dier, in the holding role by Southgate, the Liverpool man has stepped up to another level.

The 28-year-old has been snuffing out threatening attacks in his defensive midfield role but he is also adding key passes to his play.

Some of the through balls Henderson played to the likes of Sterling have been pinpoint in accuracy and moves like that help relieve the pressure when the going gets tough.

Penalty miss aside the Liverpool captain has not put a foot wrong.

5) Is social media all that bad?

This may represent a rogue final choice but it has often been said athletes do better if they shut themselves off from social media and any external pressures.

But with this group of players, activity on social media has arguably been at an all time high with the likes of Jesse Lingard and Kyle Walker, in particular, popping off jokes left, right and centre on Twitter.

Whether it is confessing that football is ‘coming home’, or it’s offering to pay for a fan’s John Stones tattoo, the level of interaction from the England squad has been what you’d expect during a Premier League campaign.

So is that arguably part of Southgate’s secret?

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By allowing his player’s to have fun, and engage with the fans, the manager has created as relaxed an environment as possible – in many ways it mirrors domestic club action.

So far, from what we have seen, the external pressure from an eternally expectant fan base has not caused the players to seize up in fear.

Long may that continue!

Follow Alasdair Hooper on Twitter @adjhooper1992

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