ENGLAND are up and running with a win, Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka are showing signs of top form and Marc Guehi already looks like being an upgrade on the injured Harry Maguire. That alone means it was a successful night in Gelsenkirchen.

Key questions remain unanswered, most notably about the effectiveness of Trent Alexander-Arnold as a central midfielder and whether you’re making the most of Phil Foden if you station him on the left-hand side, and having dominated the first half against fairly-limited opposition, England’s tendency to sit back and defend a lead rather than go for the jugular once again reared its head.

Opening wins at the Euros are rare for England though – last night’s was only their second, following on from the 1-0 victory over Croatia at the start of Euro 2020 – so a success of any description is not to be sniffed at. With Slovenia and Denmark having drawn their opening fixture, Gareth Southgate’s side could potentially have qualified for knockout stages by the end of Thursday night.

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Last night’s win came courtesy of a 13th-minute header from Bellingham, with the Real Madrid midfielder converting Saka’s cross. Harry Kane saw a second-half header tipped onto the crossbar, and while Serbia improved as the evening wore on, England’s defence was never placed under any serious pressure. That will no doubt change as the tournament progresses.

Southgate’s key selection decision pretty much paid off, with Alexander-Arnold looking comfortable enough as a central midfielder alongside Declan Rice, albeit without really being able to dictate play in the manner he would have wanted. Alexander-Arnold lasted almost 70 minutes before he was replaced by Conor Gallagher, and probably did enough to at least ensure he will remain in the team against Denmark.

Given that they were always going to dominate possession last night, the key question facing England’s players was whether they boasted the creativity and vision required to pierce Serbia’s deep-lying five-man defence.

For the opening 13 minutes, England passed the ball around neatly without ever really threatening the opposition goal. With one pass from Kyle Walker, however, that changed.

Walker’s pass in behind Serbian wing-back Filip Kostic enabled Saka to break beyond the defence for the first time. His cross took a deflection, but rather than hindering England, the flick off a Serbian defender saw the ball loop up invitingly for the onrushing Bellingham.

Bellingham headed home from the edge of the six-yard box to claim his first tournament goal since the group-stage thrashing of Iran at the World Cup in Qatar. It has been quite some month for the Champions League-winning 20-year-old.

The goal meant England were firmly in control of proceedings, but the potential for self-inflicted damage is never too far away with this side, and Serbia were almost handed an equaliser seven minutes after Bellingham’s opener.

Alexander-Arnold was unable to get Rice’s pass under control deep in his own half, and the ball was quickly shuffled on to Alexander Mitrovic 20 yards out. The former Newcastle United striker remains Serbia’s key goal threat, but he fizzed a low effort wide of the post with Jordan Pickford scrambling to his left to try to keep the ball out.

That was a warning, but England remained the game’s dominant force with Saka causing problems down the right-hand side, Bellingham controlling things in central midfield and Phil Foden breaking forward repeatedly in support of Kane, whose tally of just two touches in the whole of the first half highlighted how tightly he was being marked.

Both Foden and Kane were on the edge of the six-yard box as the overlapping Walker fired a low ball across the face of goal midway through the first half, but neither was able to get a decisive touch.

The same was true when Saka delivered a cross just behind Foden shortly before the break, and while the Arsenal winger’s delivery was not quite right on that occasion, his mastering of Kostic was becoming the game’s key match-up. Having struggled with injury in the final few weeks of the season, this was a welcome return to the standards Saka had been setting for the bulk of the last campaign at the Emirates. Indeed, when Kostic was forced off with an injury right at the end of the first half, it felt like an act of mercy.

If there was a criticism of England’s play, it was that their dominance and control was not really being converted into goalscoring opportunities. Bellingham’s goal was their only effort on target in the first half, and whereas Germany had peppered the Scottish goal on the opening night of the tournament, England’s reluctance to rain in shots remains an issue.

It tends to invite opponents to come onto them – a problem that has recurred throughout Southgate’s reign – and Serbia certainly enjoyed a greater share of possession as they tried to fight their way back into the game in the second half.

England needed the breathing space of a second goal, but while Alexander-Arnold fired in an effort from distance shortly before the hour mark, his strike was parried by Serbia goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic.

Southgate introduced Gallagher and Jarrod Bowen in an attempt to give his side a renewed spark – the latter came on for Saka, playing on the right-hand side – and within two minutes of his introduction, Bowen was almost setting up a second England goal.

His cross from the right was perfectly weighted for Kane, but while the England skipper made an ideal connection with his thumping header, Rajkovic did superbly to fingertip the ball onto the crossbar.

Jordan Pickford made an important save of his own with eight minutes left, tipping over a well-struck shot from Dusan Vlahovic.