With a deft touch and a flick of the ball, Phil Foden lit up this Nations League dead-rubber; a match that might have been called off with few complaints. The 20-year-old shone at Wembley as England brought their campaign in this competition to a close with a comfortable 4-0 win over Iceland.
Added to that piece of skill late on, in which Foden took control of a dropping ball and manoeuvred past an Icelandic defender superbly, were two goals and an assist. The first being for Declan Rice’s first goal in an England shirt, completing a great night for the Manchester City attacker. Foden gave meaning to this encounter.
Foden in from the cold
On his first competitive appearance since being banished from the national team squad for breaking Covid-19 protocols and breaching his manager’s trust, Foden showcased the best of hist talents to lead England to an easy victory.
By scoring twice, one being a lovely swept finish, not only did Foden manage his first goal for the England first team but he became the youngest player to score more than once in a game for the national team since Bobby Charlton in May 1958.
But there was so much more to Foden’s performance to note as well as the impact in the final third: his deftness of touch, an ability to play with his head up and track team-mates’ movements, and also his composure when under pressure.
Foden admitted that is was difficult to come back into the national team fray, having been sent home after England faced Iceland in Reykjavik in September and then being left out of the squad for the October internationals, but he demonstrated here why Gareth Southgate simply had to restore him.
He reminded everyone what a bright future he has for both club and country.
Youngsters bring necessary energy
England had three players aged 21 or younger score in the same match for the first time since February 1883, against Ireland. Foden, Mason Mount and Rice were all on the scoresheet and the only element missing was a full Wembley to cheer them on.
Southgate opted for changes following a troubling run of games this season in which his team have lacked creativity and and struggled to combine midfield and attack.
By starting many younger players, England had greater adventure and were more incisive in their play. This was England’s best game of the season. Of course, that statement comes with a caveat in that they were facing their weakest opponents in a match of little significance.
Still the displays of Foden, Jack Grealish and Bukayo Saka demonstrated that they can bring something a little different to the usual cavalry of Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling. They themselves are young players, but advanced in so many ways having been given their chances to excel.
England fans will hope that Southgate manages to accommodate as many of this talented generation as possible.
Mount and Rice: a workable duo
Given that Iceland were always going to sit deeper and be more reclusive than Belgium in an attacking sense, Southgate opted for Mount alongside Rice in central midfield.
The pair are good friends who go back to their time spent together in Chelsea’s academy. Mount is still at the club and instrumental to Frank Lampard’s plans while Rice moved to West Ham United and is the team’s deputy leader behind captain Mark Noble.
Here, the pair both scored and what a proud moment it would have been for both sets of parents who have watched their sons grow into England internationals.
As a duo they worked well behind the attacking trio ahead of them. Mount’s passing was particularly important in spreading the play and widening Icelandic defence. He was comfortable and versatile in the role, better suited there than as a wider attacker.
Against tougher opponents, however, Mount is likely to make way for Jordan Henderson. But this experiment should not be neglected. If Southgate does persist with a 3-4-3 set-up then there are less positions available to attackers and so accommodating Mount in central midfield is a way of getting a creative player without an abundance of pace into the team.
England remember great Clemence
Jordan Pickford had very little to do against an Iceland side that were a shadow of the team that graced Euro 2016 and infamously knocked England out of the competition in the round-of-16.
Still, the current England No 1 performed a very important role prior to kick-off. Before going through his warm-up routine, he laid down a yellow goalkeeping top with “Clemence 1” on the back, in tribute to Ray Clemence.
His standing in the game is undisputed having amassed trophies at Liverpool and helped Spurs in a golden period for the club. There was also a period of applause for Clemence, who was a coach for the national team for a decade, and his contribution to the game was recognised with photographs on the large screens around Wembley.