SRINIVAS SADHANAND | 19th October 2020

If Jack Grealish’s performance was the one positive for the English faithful against Belgium, a Phil Foden monsterclass confirms it’s a good time to be a Three Lions fan. Sure, you’re often caught amidst a whirlwind of incessant debates but displays like these are a reminder that England’s current crop of young lions is destined for something bigger in store than its predecessors.

One can say it is prophetic that this reminder came against Iceland, the same side that well and truly put the nail in the coffin about the English being serial capitulators.

As Foden eased his way to a brilliant brace and an assist, with best mates, Mason Mount and Declan Rice joining the party, with the latter scoring his first goal for the Three Lions, here are the 5 takeaways from a convincing 4-0 win for Gareth Southgate’s troops.

Phil Foden: Unleashed

While certain sections of the English press have refused to let go of the Icelandic fiasco that cast a shadow over Manchester’s finest young footballers’ fledgling careers in a Three Lions strip, Gareth Southgate certainly has and so has Phil Foden. If him finding pockets of space in the right channel and always being readily available for a pass still left unticked boxes for the English faithful, his pinpoint set-piece to assist Declan Rice turned shrugs into smiles.

If a sole assist wasn’t enough to win over the skeptics, a devastating brace was. The 1st goal was made in Manchester City dreamland as Jadon Sancho teed the ball up for the Stockport Iniesta to dispatch into the bottom corner. The opener was precise and the second was powerful as Foden’s low drive from outside the box capped off a display that was worthy of the numbers.

Whether it’s driving with the ball, ghosting past players like they don’t exist or being fearless in his pursuit for a goal, what stood out was how uninhibited the 20-year was all evening, something you don’t associate with Southgate’s overall vision. Marry that with Foden’s technique and you have a player.

The End of the Grealish vs Mount Debate

Blinded by irrational proportions of rage, football fans have no time for balanced takes. To some, Mason Mount doesn’t have a creative bone in his body and to others, Jack Grealish is yet another overhyped English talent. Of course, not only are these schools of thought obscenely exaggerated but also just plain wrong.

Instead, it was clear to observe that they were never fighting for the same position in the first place and there was space for the pair to shine in the same XI, as proven today.

Once again, Grealish glided all evening in his free role, picking up spaces just about anywhere on the pitch, from his favored left-wing to even the base of midfield. Mount started and starred on the left of a midfield 3, linking up with aplomb with the likes of Saka, Foden and of course, Grealish. As per usual, there’s a simple answer to things than making a mountain out of a molehill and the duo showed that today.

So is Harry Maguire an overlapping centre-back now?

This was news to everyone, every time the Manchester United captain made a dash towards the left-channel or even the same flank, getting surprisingly involved in the build-up and functioning as an extra body up top. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and Chris Wilder will be a happy man to see his left-field ideas seem very right to the man with the country’s most high-profile managerial gig.

The major tweak in Maguire’s new role gave Bukayo Saka the license to operate as a fully-fledged left-winger, adding to England’s glorious front 4 and ridding him of his defensive duties. For all the opinions, mostly negative that have surrounded the burly central defender, it must be said that his passing throughout the contest was flawless.

The former Leicester man was superb with his distribution in the advanced areas and his passing in between the lines as well as to the likes of Grealish and Saka on the left-flank was exemplary. A fine evening for the much-maligned defender.

The fans were always right, Gareth

Being a manager might just be the most unfair job in the beautiful game. The game’s greats, be it Diego Maradona or even Alan Shearer haven’t looked the part, despite being era-defining footballers and novices on the pitch like Mourinho and Klopp have created templates of empires to study for the future generations.

Keeping this in mind, giving Southgate the benefit of the doubt for his team selections is what is rational, surely? Well, not quite. To keep things simple and succinct, England have looked drab, post their fairytale World Cup run and anytime the fans have made a suggestion, it’s worked wonders. For starters, because the changes have been glaringly obvious.

If there was outrage over Grealish’s exclusion from squads and starting XI’s, it’s tough to imagine a team without him. If excluding Saka from an England squad that had no genuine left-backs was met with raised eyebrows, Arsenal’s starboy has just gone on and proven his worth. If the decision to play a double-pivot caused fans to see red, Foden and Mount showed Southgate what he was missing.

If Southgate ditches the back 3 and reverts to a back 4, that just reiterates the belief that the higher-ups aren’t always right. And yes, we’re sticking to football here before anyone gets any ideas.   

Not Harry Kane’s finest outing

Among 2020’s many anomalies, one of them has to be that Harry Kane hasn’t scored a goal all year. While the England captain did create the most chances as well as take the most shots in the first 45, it has to be said that it seemed as if Kane was simply desperate to make something happen and get on the scoresheet. These aren’t things to particularly slate and are actually encouraging signs of a player who refuses to fold and doesn’t shy away from conjuring magic without anyone’s help.

Perspective is key, however. Adapting to new systems alongside players you tend to be against, week in and week out can never be easy and for the Premier League’s current best player on form, he’s bound to have occasional blips, here and there.

Harry Kane is still ace and in 2021, he’ll hope he bags goals again and bucket loads of them.