In the end, England ran out 3-0 victors in a comfortable friendly win over Wales at Wembley. That was despite the home side taking their time to feel their way into the first England match to be played at this stadium in 11 months. Goals from Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Conor Coady and Danny Ings were too much for Ryan Giggs’s side.
This was the least experienced England first team for 44 years. There were only 54 caps amongst the starting lineup, and stand-in captain Kieran Trippier held 21 of them. Still, those given a chance by Gareth Southgate certainly took their opportunity to raise their profile on the international stage.
Grealish can unpick any defence
Aston Villa supporters have long known that their captain is a special player and have been telling the rest of the footballing fraternity as much for just as long. Here, at an empty Wembley, Jack Grealish demonstrated it himself and was fantastic as he made his first start for the national team.
His ability to drift past opponents, sashay and draw fouls whilst creating opportunities for team-mates were all on show against Wales. His skillset is somewhat unique for Southgate’s squad and should be tapped into in the build-up to next summer’s European Championship.
There is certainly more than a hint of Paul Gascoigne in Grealish’s play; he can add an X-factor to this team to unpick better defences than Wales. It was when he switched to the right side midway through the first half that England got the best out of Grealish. His pinpoint delivery presented Calvert-Lewin with his first goal for England and his tracking back was also exemplary for a player who was once reluctant to give his all to the cause.
Calvert-Lewin and Ings ready deputies
Since Jamie Vardy retired from international football, England have been searching for a reliable understudy for Harry Kane. Marcus Rashford is better attacking from wide while Tammy Abraham is yet to find consistency, but in Calvert-Lewin and Ings, Southgate has quality in abundance.
Both took their first England goals well to open and close the scoring past Wayne Hennessey. This was Calvert-Lewin’s debut whilst Ings last played for England in 2015, but their form is undeniably good at the moment, hence the opportunity afforded them by Southgate. While there is an argument to pair one of the duo with Kane in attack, it’s more likely in the short term that they compete to be the first man off the bench when called upon.
Pope is testing Pickford for No1 spot
It’s possibly not since the 2018 World Cup that Jordan Pickford has been England’s best goalkeeper. During those heady days in Russia it was unthinkable that Pickford’s spot would be in danger. His position two years on is much less certain.
While the Everton goalkeeper has been making a series of mishaps in the Premier League, Burnley’s Nick Pope has seemed near imperious. He showed exactly what he can offer with a composed display and clean sheet at Wembley. Pope was not overly tested by Wales but still he showed in his calm demeanour that he feels he belongs in the England team. The question now is whether Southgate agrees.
System is still up in the air
It is fair to say that England’s 3-4-3 formation was far better in this display than in the stale draw with Denmark last month. Nevertheless there were still periods of the match, particularly in the first half, when the midfield four appeared disjointed from the front three and the back three was more of a flat five, which allowed Wales to attack into space.
Southgate does favour this system - it is the formation that took England to the World Cup semi finals - but it still requires tweaky, especially with various new faces constantly being drafted in to the first team. Going into a tournament, the style of play and system should be second nature to the players, and given the sparse time that is afforded to national teams on the training pitch, it is rarely wise to try anything outlandish. It will be interesting to see how the system copes against Belgium on Sunday.
Coady’s proud second half
Not only was Coady making his first England start at Wembley, the second of any nature, but he also managed to score and finished the game as captain. The Wolverhampton Wanderers captain has worked hard for this chance having been left go by Liverpool and then rebuilding his career at Huddersfield Town. His half-volleyed finish in the second half was fitting of a seasoned goalscorer rather than a central defender who rarely takes a shot at goal.
It was joyous to see Coady lead England home to victory and who knows there may be a berth in central defence for him if Southgate persists with the three-man defence. He would certainly be a vocal, encouraging presence if placed along side Harry Maguire and Joe Gomez.