Raheem Sterling ends drought, England hand Spain first competitive home defeat since 2003
SEVILLE, Spain -- Three thoughts on England's 3-2 win over Spain at Estadio Benito Villamarin in Group 4, League A of the UEFA Nations League.
1. New-look England build on World Cup momentum
Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Harry Kane blew Spain away in 38 first-half minutes as England became the first country to beat Spain in Spain in a competitive game in 15 years, a run stretching 38 games.
Sterling ended a three-year wait for an international goal, scoring twice either side of a Rashford effort as he silenced those who had suggested he should be dropped by manager Gareth Southgate.
There was no goal for Kane, but his role in all three of his country's goals was key. Spain struggled to deal with his presence as the focal point of a side which has been re-modelled by Southgate since the World Cup. With three in attack, and an average age of 23, England bypassed the midfield when they could, and Luis Enrique's side had no answer in the first half.
Spain did respond after the break, pulling goals back through the red-hot Paco Alcacer and Sergio Ramos, but the second -- deep in stoppage time -- was too late. They remain top of the group with six points and the most likely to qualify for the final four of the UEFA Nations League next summer, but they now need to find a result in Croatia, with England poised just two points back.
All this after the home side had started well. England looked fragile at the back. A Thiago effort was deflected wide, Jordan Pickford made a fine block to keep out Marcos Alonso, and Marco Asensio failed to capitalise on a Kieran Trippier mistake.
Then England struck. Pickford, under pressure, picked out Kane, who fed Rashford on the right. Rashford threaded the ball through to Sterling. This time it was Spain's defence that was all over the place, as Ramos wasn't even in the picture when Sterling lashed expertly into the top corner.
It was a tactic which England would continue to have success with. Pickford sent another long ball to Kane in the 30th minute. The Tottenham striker did brilliantly, holding the ball up before brilliantly playing in Rashford.
The 3,000 travelling England fans could barely believe what they were seeing from their vantage point in the top corner, but there was more to come. Eight minutes later, Ross Barkley found Kane at the far post with a deft pass. Kane unselfishly squared for Sterling to score his second as Spain conceded three in a competitive game on home soil for the first time.
Luis Enrique threw on Alcacer, the striker with the golden touch at the moment. Within 90 seconds he headed in from a corner. He now has 10 goals in six games for club and country, with five of those appearances off the bench.
Tails up and the Benito Villamarin roaring, Spain pressed. Pickford was caught out by Rodrigo and the goalkeeper was lucky not to give a penalty away when he pulled the Valencia man's shirt before sliding to clear. Led by captain Ramos, they furiously called for a spot kick, but Pickford was let off the hook.
Alonso headed against the bar in stoppage time, and Ramos then finally found Spain's second only for the final whistle to sound as the ball hit the net.
2. Sterling ends his drought with showcase in Spain
The three-year anniversary of Sterling's last goal for England passed last week. It was on Oct. 9 of 2015 -- 1,102 days ago -- that he last found the net for his country in a win over Estonia at Wembley. Since then, 27 appearances but no goals.
Going into Monday's game in Seville, his England record read: 45 caps, two goals. Inside 38 minutes he'd doubled his goal tally, justifying Southgate's faith and persistence with him.
That this performance came in Spain is not insignificant, either. Sources confirmed to ESPN FC this week that Real Madrid are monitoring the Manchester City player. These sort of performances on the big occasions, for club and country, will only increase his suitability for the front cover of the Madrid newspapers.
Sterling did not act alone, though. He would have been grateful to Kane, who bullied Spain's defence at times and was unlucky not to get a goal for himself. The Tottenham striker did grab two assists and even played a central role in the build-up to England's other.
Rashford, the third member of England's new-look front three, also played his part, grabbing a goal, causing problems with his pace and working hard in defence late on.
3. Spain finally show cracks under Luis Enrique
Three wins from three under Luis Enrique, including a six-goal thumping of World Cup finalists Croatia, had help Spain brush their problems under the carpet. Everything was rosy again; their last-16 exit in Russia just a consequence of Julen Lopetegui leaving for Madrid on the eve of the tournament.
There is, of course, truth to that. However, it's also true that Spain have other issues. Here they showed themselves to be vulnerable for the first time under Luis Enrique.
It was at the back where they struggled most. Some of Ramos' defending was comical at times. Nacho has been a utility man across the back four at Madrid for years. Is he really the best they have? Is Alonso better than the outcasted Jordi Alba? Meanwhile, at right-back was Wolverhampton Wanderers' left-back Jonny (Dani Carvajal is injured).
Spain improved after the break. They couldn't not. They hustled and they pressed and they looked like they could get back into the game. They couldn't crawl all the way back in the end and Enrique will face the first inquisition into his management. He knew this moment would come eventually -- he predicted as much on Sunday when asked if this international management malarky was "easy."