Luke Shaw allayed concerns over his well-being after sustaining a sickening-looking injury that overshadowed England’s UEFA Nations League opener against Spain.
The 23-year-old sent in an exceptional pass for Marcus Rashford’s opener on his first international start since September 2015 – an appearance that came just a week before the hideous injury that he recently revealed nearly cost him his leg.
But Shaw’s assured return to England duty came to a shuddering halt minutes into second half, with his head appearing to hit Dani Carvajal’s hip before bouncing off the turf.
The impact was audible from the stands and led to him leaving on a stretcher wearing an oxygen mask and a neck brace after lengthy treatment.
However, Shaw’s condition is not as bad as first feared, with the left-back posting on Twitter an hour after the match ended 2-1.
Harry Kane claimed the referee “bottled it” after England were robbed of the stoppage-time goal that would have prevented their UEFA Nations League opener ending in defeat to Spain.
Back in action for the first time since equalling their best-ever World Cup performance on foreign soil, the Three Lions got off to a superb start as Marcus Rashford swept home Luke Shaw’s exceptional pass.
But Saul Niguez and Rodrigo turned the match on its head as Spain ran out 2-1 victors on a night when Shaw’s nasty-looking injury early in the second half took the sting out proceedings.
England rallied late on – perhaps buoyed by positive news from the dressing room about the left-back’s condition – and looked to have snatched a draw through substitute Danny Welbeck.
But referee Danny Makkelie infuriated the hosts by ruling that the forward had fouled David De Gea when collecting a high ball, leading to sharp words from captain Kane.
Asked if the goal should have stood, the England striker told Sky Sports Football: “Yeah, 100 per cent.
“In those big environments you need the ref to stay strong and unfortunately he’s bottled it.
“Danny Welbeck just stood there, the keeper went to catch it, he’s put it away – I don’t know how it’s a foul.
“You need a firm ref who under the pressure doesn’t give wrong decisions.
“Disappointing to finish that way, I thought we played well – especially second half – and deserved a draw at least.
“It was a good game, it was a real test against a team that keep the ball really well. We probably created the better chances throughout the game.”
The Luis Enrique era for Spain began with a win in the new manager’s first game in charge, as ‘La Seleccion’ saw off England 2-1 at Wembley in a close-fought affair.
Enrique, brought in to revitalise the national team after a second straight disappointing World Cup, saw several key players play at their best to ensure a victory that often looked precarious.
Here’s a closer look at how the new Spain boss got his reign off to the best possible start.
Goals – 2
Shots – 9
Possession – 55%
Accurate passes – 533
Dribbles – 5
Enrique’s first team selection as Spain manager saw the side adopt a familiar 4-3-3, with Real Madrid playmaker Isco part of the front three alongside Iago Aspas and Rodrigo, while Nacho replaced the retired Gerard Pique at centre-back.
As usual, Spain dominated possession, and scored two slick goals after falling behind early. However, they didn’t quite make their dominance count, with keeper David de Gea being called upon to make a couple of outstanding saves to preserve the win.
TACTICAL TALKING POINT
Spain had dialled down the high press during the World Cup, but Enrique brought it back, and it had an instant impact. England kept trying to play out from the back, but Spain’s relentless attackers constantly harried the Three Lions backline, drawing several errors.
However, the press also left Spain exposed on occasion, as the players committed left space behind. When England were able to bypass the press, they exploited that, finding their wide men with aplomb.
Getting the win was a good way to start for the former Barcelona and Roma manager, but when Enrique knows his side survived by the skin of their teeth. The defending was shaky at times and better England finishing would have certainly led to a loss, while Spain didn’t create enough opportunities of their own.
Getting a new-look midfield and an attack shorn of Diego Costa to work seamlessly was impressive, and augurs well for the future.
However, there’s still a lot to work on.
RATING – 7/10