Hopes are high for England at the inaugural Nations League as they prepare for their semi-final against Holland in Porto on Thursday.
In part that is down to the success of Premier League clubs in Europe this season, even if that effort was helped by a multitude of other nationalities.
There is a sense of momentum behind Gareth Southgate’s team, who over the last couple of years have developed into a truly modern-looking side stacked with good, young, quick and hungry players.
I like the feeling of togetherness about this group, which mirrors a club set-up. Some have been together at various age-group levels for a long time, while newcomers are integrated quickly.
That gives you continuity and, in turn, consistency of results, meaning that England have been able to build on reaching the World Cup semi-finals last summer.
There will be expectation on them now, but that is always there. What is more concerning is the possibility of rustiness, owing to the long break since the end of the domestic season.
A lot of these players haven’t played competitive football for more than two weeks, and we saw in Saturday’s dreary Champions League final the stultifying effect that can have.
On the other hand, those Liverpool and Tottenham players who featured may have shaken off some of that rust in the final and therefore be in better shape to perform in Portugal.
This is a new competition, which adds to the unpredictability, but simply being in a semi-final respresents a great chance for England to end their wait for a first significant trophy since 1966.
Winning and losing are habits and England need to become winners at international level. This week is a stepping stone, a fantastic chance to go into next summer’s European Championship with a huge boost to their standing and confidence.
However it concludes on Sunday evening, the Nations League has been a huge success. It has surely cemented its place in the calendar and created an exciting finale to the season.
Mind the gap
Jordan Henderson admitted Liverpool didn’t play well in their 2-0 Champions League final win over Spurs, but it was his manager who put his finger on the reason.
Jurgen Klopp acknowledged that the gap between the end of the Premier League, on 12 May, and the climax to the European club season, on 1 June, was far too long.
Teams lose rhythm and both sides looked nervous in Madrid. You can’t just switch these things on. This match is meant to be the pinnacle and should be played within 10 days of domestic campaigns ending.
The first-minute penalty that went against Tottenham was harsh given the timing and the fact that Moussa Sissoko seemed to be raising his arm to direct team-mate Kieran Trippier rather than handle the ball.
Although it spoiled the contest as a spectacle, Liverpool deserve credit. Their 4-3-3 system and in particular the industry of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah worked so well in keeping Spurs at arm’s length.