After the week’s tragic events in Paris, football became an afterthought when two of Europe’s outstanding nations lined-up in a highly anticipated friendly at Wembley Stadium.
Belgium’s encounter with Spain was canceled alongside Germany and Holland’s grudge match in Hanover due to security reasons, following the tragic circumstances in France’s capital just days beforehand. Controversially, the French Football Federation confirmed that Les Bleus’ scheduled fixture with England would go ahead.
For the hosts, it was an opportunity to show respect towards their French counterparts above anything else. With a floral tribute provided by the Duke of Cambridge and a rousing rendition of the French national anthem under an arch illuminated with the colours of the Tricolore, the FA certainly showed their support.
The English falter in Spain
On the pitch, however, Roy Hodgson’s men succumbed to a disappointing two goal defeat at the hands of Spain last week. The Three Lions were outdone in all areas of the pitch but notably in midfield. Spain dominated possession as they harboured 64 per cent of the ball, overcame their opponents in terms of passing accuracy by 6.8 per cent and their two goals came from their 15 shots compared to England’s 10.
Michael Carrick and Fabian Delph partnered one another in a widely popular 4-2-3-1 formation that 15 of the 20 Premier League outfits use every week. With neither of the duo known for their ball winning abilities, the pivot in the centre of the pitch lacked a now customary defensive midfielder that arguably makes this formation so successful. Sergio Busquets was intelligently placed between the back four and La Roja’s midfield three, proving his worth with more interceptions and a healthier passing accuracy than the Englishmen.
Manchester United’s Carrick has been restricted to just one appearance for his country since a dismal World Cup campaign whilst Fabian Delph has partaken in just 16 minutes of Manchester City’s season. With Eric Dier and Dele Alli coming on just past the hour mark in Alicante, it seemed inevitable the the Spurs duo would feature in London three days later.
Dele Alli and Eric Dier partnership proving invaluable
Dele Alli and Eric Dier are both relatively new to the Premier League, the former recently arriving from MK Dons while the latter was purchased from Sporting Lisbon in 2014, but have flourished as partners this term.
Alli scored on 16 separate occasions as MK Dons secured promotion to the Championship last campaign, deployed as an attacking midfielder by Karl Robinson. Injuries to Nabil Bentaleb and Ryan Mason has forced Mauricio Pochettino into retreating the 19-year-old towards an unfamiliar holding role. The teenager has adapted well alongside Dier, who primarily plied his trade at centre-back before this season, with the defender allowing his team-mate to roam from box-to-box throughout matches. While Alli’s physicality allows the England international to endure defensive duties successfully, his colleague’s discipline ensures that the midfielder’s attacking qualities are not wasted.
In Tottenham Hotspur’s 3-1 defeat of Aston Villa earlier this month, Dier spent 55.84 per cent of the match within his half which allowed Alli to enjoy 63.64 per cent of his time advanced past the halfway line. This was replicated in the north London derby where Eric Dier used the majority of his time defending while Dele Alli only spent 31 per cent of the match in his own half.
As a result, Spurs are yet to lose with the two youngsters on the pitch together and have failed to win without this blossoming partnership on the pitch. Conceding six in seven league outings together and scoring 17, in spite of playing this season’s top two, can this continue for England? The early signs suggest so.
Partnership blossoming for country, not just club
Seemingly avenging their 2-0 loss to Spain, the English convincingly dispatched of an understandably frail but strong France side by the same score. Goals from Dele Alli and captain Wayne Rooney sealed the victory over the hosts of next summer’s European Championships, with a new-look team taking the field.
They’ve played the game like they were playing in the England team for as long as we can remember.” - Roy Hodgson
With six players under the age of 22, Roy Hodgson fielded the country's youngest starting XI during his reign at 24 years and 113 days. The former Liverpool manager would have been excited by this array of youthful talent ahead of the Euros, with fresh enthusiasm seemingly available to complement the experienced Wayne Rooney and Joe Hart amongst others.
Dele Alli was granted more freedom on Tuesday, starting in a three man midfield just ahead of Eric Dier. Alli was quick to drop in alongside his team-mate whenever France gained possession of the ball and this was typified by the move leading to his goal. The midfielder lunged in to rob Morgan Schneiderlin of the ball on the halfway line before unleashing a powerful strike into the top corner of the net after demanding a pass from Wayne Rooney.
His dynamism, flair and confidence are attributes that the national team have been lacking in recent years. Jack Wilshere and Fabian Delph are two who also offer similar levels of excitement as Alli in a comparable role, but both are seemingly unable to avoid sustaining an injury long enough to mount a place in the first team.
In contrast, Dier’s heatmap displays the position he undertook that evening and, with 34 forward passes, his task was to win the ball back before setting up an England attack.
His four interceptions, four attempted tackles and three successful aerial duels showcased that England were a stronger defensive unit with the Tottenham player in the side. Although Delle Ali stole the headlines on the night, and rightly so after a Man of the Match performance, nobody would be happier for Dier on his full international debut than Alli himself. It is unclear whether these individuals would be in England’s plans without each other and, in an interview after the game, Alli praised his team-mate by proclaiming that Dier is a “great guy” and he “couldn't think of anyone better to play with".
The European Championships are now just months away, with the group stage draw taking place in just over three weeks, and the squad holds little certainties. Eric Dier offers the national side security where others may leave the back four fragile and is in real contention for a place if he remains injury free. Dele Alli may find it more difficult with there being a plethora of midfielders that should be available come the summer but, if Alli’s Spurs form continues, not many will stand in his way.