Just three months on from the bitter disappointment of losing a first Soccer World Cup semi-final for 28 years, England visit Croatia tonight in the Nations League seeking not only revenge, but also a long-term solution to a familiar shortcoming.
For all the progress made by the Three Lions in a glorious Russian summer, a familiar lack of midfield authority ultimately undid England as Croatia’s Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic took control of their semi-final to come from a goal down in Moscow.
It was a similar story when Spain came to Wembley last month to puncture England’s feel-good factor by dominating the ball in a 2-1 Nations League win.
A run to the last four with the third youngest squad at the World Cup raised expectations of what is to come from a richly talented generation under Gareth Southgate’s tutelage.
However, Southgate has gone even younger in his search for the midfield maestro he believes England have lacked since the days of Paul Gascoigne.
Jadon Sancho (18) and Mason Mount (19), who made moves to get more first team football, and James Maddison, who jumped to the Premier League, are all rewarded with a first call-up.
Sancho has lit up the Bundesliga since making the brave decision to turn down Pep Guardiola’s pleas to keep him at Manchester City and join Borussia Dortmund last year.