Our first matches as England manager began with a draw in Italy and a win over the World Champions, which set us up nicely for the conclusion of the Nations League group.
October group games
The second of three rounds of games began with a trip to Russia. We had Jude Bellingham back fit from injury so he came back into the squad and into the midfield. Two further changes saw Fikayo Timori start at the back and Harvey Elliott come in for Marcus Rashford.
And it was one of those replacements that got us off to a good start. Phil Foden whipped a corner in from the left, Jason Knight got a head on it and his centre-back partner Timori turned it home from close range. We were playing really well and getting lots of shots in but couldn’t find the killer goal.
That was until we made two substitutions, replacing Harry Kane with Manchester United’s Mason Greenwood and Jadon Sancho coming on for Elliott. The duo quickly made the difference, with Sancho teeing up Greenwood to convert from close range. The 2-0 win put us top of our Nations League group with a home game against Italy up next.
We got off to a flyer against Italy as left-back Ryan Sessegnon got forward and smashed a great finish into the far corner after eight minutes. But eight minutes later Italy were back level as Emanuel Vignato hit a lovely finish of his own.
But we were very much the better team and kept on pushing. And that paid off as Sterling’s shot was parried by Gianluigi Donnarumma, only for it to drop to Sancho to steer home at the back post. A relatively quiet second half followed and we held on for a 2-1 win to stay top ahead of the final round of group games.
November group games
The final round of matches began with a huge game away to World Champions Spain, who were three points behind us in the group.
The game began with both sides having decent chances but hosts got their noses in front as one of my former players Sergio Ros of Athletic Bilbao hit a screamer from long range on 12 minutes. But we bounced back when Bellingham picked the ball up in midfield and slid in Sterling who finished superbly with the outside of his right foot past David De Gea into the far corner.
It was a very even game but once again swung on a key substitute. Greenwood replaced Kane and that man Bellingham lofted a lovely ball over the top for him, he kept his cool and powered the ball past De Gea.
We held on for a superb 2-1 away win that put us six points clear and ensured we qualified for the Nations League Finals in summer 2027.
But we still had one more game to go, with a home match against Russia. And, with qualification confirmed, I decided to give a few of the backup players a run-out. Max Aarons and Brandon Williams, who made his debut, came in at full-back, Giovanni Reyna in midfield, Greenwood up front and Marcus Rashford on the wing, with a debut for Southampton goalkeeper Andrew Steel.
We were again good value on the night and it was Bellingham who made the difference, scoring the only goal after 23 minutes to ensure we finished the group undefeated. Reyna also impressed with six key passes and Elliott created the goal.
The next blog will push us beyond 24 hours, but we’ll move ahead to cover the Nations League Finals in the summer.