One of the big discussions this week was why these international friendly matches were taking place, but Jack Grealish at least provided a good reason to watch them.
He was gloriously creative in a match that otherwise was somewhat predictable, and useless without an audience.
It was a first night in that regard, not the least of which was the England international at Wembley without fans. This is something that will take only marginally from the truly special moments of these players.
Calvert-Lewin scored his first goal, Coady scored and scored the first goals, and Southgate got a few pointers and potential solutions for Euro 2020. He felt it helpful, in Grealish’s first start, to make England’s first goal out of open play. Since Kosovo. His action also won the Caddy goal free kick, which included an impressive delivery from reserve captain Kieran Trippier.
Grealish Watch is, quite simply, awesome – and uniquely hard for defenders to spot.
In the meantime, Wells hasn’t come out much of this at all, except for a fairly brutal 3-0 defeat and a look at how some of the major international teams are handling some of the major international teams in next summer’s Euro Championship.
This is what these matches are supposed to be about in part, as well as the much-needed income for the national associations. It is all starting to feel a much less urgent necessity among the increasing cases of Coronavirus across the continent, and especially among international teams.
This is why the newcomers – Calvert Lewin and Bukayo Saka – will have strange memories of their first matches. They have been successes though.
Calvert Lewin’s opening goal was a classic ninth type that he had already made regularly for Everton this season, which Grealish has designed excellently. It was such an eye-catching ball, and it was the kind of ending that Calvert Lewin talked about while preparing for the match.
The two would give Southgate some important decisions ahead of the euro.
They might not be that big until that point. It may be clear. For now, with the forwards, it looks like Southgate will have to pick one from Calvert Lewin, Tammy Abraham and Danny Ings behind Harry Kane. The Everton striker is currently leading this race.
Meanwhile, Grealish will likely be looking to be one of the two complete Raheem Sterling, with Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford.
Villa playmaker offers something completely different in its weak gameplay, hinting at a wild card that can outrun defenders. Almost unique as a playmaker in the Premier League, he gave Southgate more freedom in this game.
While Sancho and Rashford tend to shatter the backlines of England, and extend the pitch, Grealish is more of a pullback. There are times when he just doesn’t seem to be moving much at all. He hadn’t actually come off the right flank once until the moment he scored, when he next scored and cut it into a catchy cross.
He can carry the ball and dribble the ways out of the game but it may become more important than ever now where the pressure reigns.
Grealish contributions have made elements of this game even more convincing, and possibly subordinate.
It’s still fitting that England’s next two goals came from set pieces, even if one of them was as innovative as the bicycle kick accomplished.
This touches on a broader discussion about this team. Can Southgate develop a system that makes the open-play aspect more penetrating with this midfield? Is England so dependent on hard play?
One of the great ironies of Southgate’s search for a successful system is that the best for England may not necessarily be the best for winning the tournaments.
There is a problem in the first place, that even if he does manage to get to the midfield properly, individuals mean that he will not be as leader as France, Germany or Spain. As such, England will have to adapt in those games. And this, for its part, is the variety that Southgate is trying to find.
In general, there is an interesting discussion about what is the optimal approach at this level.
We know very well what he’s like at club level. This is a frantic pressure on a level of coordination that creates chaos, married with controlled possession. Such a combination is possible with clubs, however, due to the amount of time they must train together; For managers to train their players.
This is not possible with countries. There’s nowhere near enough time to develop this cohesion, unless you have a core of players from one club, so trying to do so will inevitably lead to loopholes in the team and possibly some degree of laxity.
It might just be a little outdated club game style most effective internationally. That would lock in games on one side, and await individual inspiration on the other. This is partly how France has become the best in the world, even if there has been a longstanding frustration with the use of so many talented players in a very restricted manner.
This is the other side of it. It’s not exactly cool to watch, and it talks about some issues the level has experienced unlike the club game.
Grealish made this match worth watching, but it isn’t necessarily worth playing.