England Cruise Past Montenegro with 5-1 Win in Euro 2020 Qualifying

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistMarch 25, 2019

England's midfielder Ross Barkley (C) celebrates with teammates after scoring his second goal of the Euro 2020 football qualification match between Montenegro and England at Podgorica City Stadium on March 25, 2019 in Podgorica, Montenegro. (Photo by Andrej ISAKOVIC / AFP)        (Photo credit should read ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images)

England were forced to come back from behind as they defeated Montenegro 5-1 at the City Stadium in Podgorica on Monday to remain ahead in Group A of UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying.  

Marko Vesovic finished well to power Montenegro ahead on home soil, but Michael Keane hit back on the 30-minute mark to pull the Three Lions level before Ross Barkley poked the visitors in front before the break.

Barkley bagged a second after the break to record his first England brace, and Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane contributed a fourth to round off an ultimately comfortable win for the guests. Raheem Sterling scored a hat-trick in Friday's 5-0 mauling of Czech Republic and hit England's fifth in Podgorica.

Gareth Southgate's side now boast a four-point advantage at the top of their pool, with Bulgaria drawing 1-1 away to Kosovo in Group A's other clash to secure their first win on the qualification trail.


Sarri Must Hand Hudson-Odoi, Barkley Chances

If Maurizio Sarri wasn't already feeling the pressure from certain sections of Chelsea's support to hand Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ross Barkley more minutes, their dazzling displays in Podgorica will have ensured he has by now.

Of the two Chelsea stars not greatly favoured by their club chief, it was Barkley who had the first goal involvements and set in a sumptuous ball for Keane to beat Stefan Savic in the air and equalise.

Architect then turned provider as Barkley was in the right place at the right time and turned in his club mate's shot toward goal, via Optus Sport (U.S. only):

Optus Sport @OptusSport

It could have been an absolute beauty by Callum Hudson-Odoi... But Ross Barkley used his cat-like reflexes and turned the ball towards goal to make sure it hit the back of the net. Montenegro 1-2 England #MONENG #EURO2020 #OptusSpor https://t.co/1FPfvxfFbu

Like Hudson-Odoi, West Ham United midfielder Declan Rice was also making his first international start against the Brave Falcons.

However, it was Chelsea's duo soaking up the major plaudits after Barkley, 25, nudged the Three Lions ahead for the first time in Montenegro's capital:

B/R Football @brfootball

Hudson-Odoi's first England assist 🅰️ Barkley's first England goal since 2015 ⚽️ https://t.co/vWQAJTloA9

OptaJoe @OptaJoe

1 - Ross Barkley's goal is the first @England goal that is scored and assisted by @ChelseaFC players since September 2007 - Shaun Wright-Phillips scoring and Joe Cole assisting. Made. https://t.co/8bvdeUegPT

Critics might argue 18-year-old Hudson-Odoi and Barkley still need to prove themselves against more serious tests before they can govern starting spots in Chelsea's lineup. The pair can only play the game in front of them, however, and continue to impress this season when afforded opportunities.

Hudson-Odoi's development seems a particular opportunity at Stamford Bridge. Pedro, 31, and Willian, 30, are each ageing figures on the Chelsea flanks, while the future of Eden Hazard remains uncertain. 

Barkley has started 11 league games under Sarri this season. N'Golo Kante's transition into a more attacking presence makes competition even stiffer in Chelsea's midfield, with neither the Frenchman nor summer signing Jorginho likely to lose their places in the manager's midfield makeup.

Nevertheless, the former Everton star has turned back the clock this season and has shown arguably his best international form in recent appearances, per Sky Sports Statto:

Sky Sports Statto @SkySportsStatto

⚽⚽ Ross Barkley has scored his 1st brace since scoring a pair of penalties in Everton's 3-0 PL win v Newcastle in Feb 2016 https://t.co/ntZyQjlggQ

Gary Lineker, the third-highest scorer in England's history (48 goals), heaped praise on Hudson-Odoi for his electric performance:

Gary Lineker @GaryLineker

The boy, Hudson-Odoi. Such joy.

Great challenges will come, but Podgorica served as an ideal testing ground for two players in as much need of mental fortitude as they are goals, considering the lack of attention they've received at Chelsea.

Nevertheless, Hudson-Odoi and Barkley are rewarding Southgate for his faith, and it will be Sarri's loss if he continues to underuse the pair.


What's Next?

England won't reunite until they face Netherlands in the inaugural UEFA Nations League finals, which begin in June. Montenegro, meanwhile, can concentrate their efforts on Euro 2020 qualification and will be at home to Kosovo in the same month.