England thrashed the Republic of Ireland 3-0 to ensure this friendly in an empty Wembley Stadium during an injury-riddled global pandemic retained some level of significance.
The hosts dominated from start to finish, pinning Ireland back as Harry Maguire’s header, Jadon Sancho’s low shot and Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s penalty did the damage.
Here are the takeaways from an impressive night for Gareth Southgate’s men.
1. High scores all round
Nick Pope – 6
Reece James – 8
Michael Keane – 6
Harry Maguire – 8
Tyrone Mings – 7
Bukayo Saka – 8
Harry Winks – 7
Mason Mount – 7
Jack Grealish – 8
Jadon Sancho – 7
Dominic Calvert-Lewin – 7
Subs: Dean Henderson 7, Ainsley Maitland-Niles 6, Jude Bellingham 6, Phil Foden 6, Tammy Abraham 6.
2. Mount livens up the midfield
Mason Mount is a Southgate favourite. It’s no secret, but since the emergence of Jack Grealish the England manager’s selection of the Chelsea midfielder has come under increased scrutiny.
The narrative says that Mount is the teachers’ pet, while Grealish is the naughty boy at the back of the classroom.
Of course, neither is true. But with both bang in form for their club sides, the need to find a way to fit them into the same line-up has grown.
The need to play this friendly in the midst of a global pandemic when players are dropping like flies to injury has rightly been questioned, but at least it has served one purpose: to show that Mount can play centrally, as well as in the front three.
Against a flat-footed Ireland, Mount looked the part alongside Harry Winks. The 21-year-old constantly took up dangerous positions between the lines and directed play stylishly, linking well with Chelsea team-mate Reece James in particular.
The more conservative pairing of Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson may well return for the upcoming Nations League qualifiers against Belgium and Iceland, but Mount’s performance has given Southgate food for thought.
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3. Grealish is the real deal
This is hardly news to anyone who has paid any attention to the Premier League this season, but it is worth reiterating: Jack Grealish is a talent worth pursuing.
England may be well stocked in the wide forward department, yet Grealish offers them something completely unique.
From the first minute he was strutting around Wembley, socks low, calves on show, chances springing from his boots. His seemingly innate ability to unlock defences from any position is something Southgate should be keen to utilise.
Jack Grealish has now provided an assist in both of his two starts for the England senior side.
Take note, Gareth Southgate. 👀 pic.twitter.com/B9YtSxAdTK
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 12, 2020
While both of England’s first-half goals came from second phases following Mount corners, it was Grealish who did the best work in open play, driving at the Irish defence on the counter-attack, slipping James down the right and sending Sancho racing on the left.
To Aston Villa manager Dean Smith’s relief, Grealish was substituted 61 minutes in, but on his form it would not be a surprise to see him again in the coming games.
4. Full-back depth frightening
James is not available to play against Belgium and Iceland after being sent off after the final whistle against Denmark, but his performances in the past two games have sent the Chelsea fullback to the top of the long list of England right-backs.
He was a constant thorn in Ireland’s side down the right-hand side, with his whipped crosses and byline cut-backs a frequent route of attack, before he underlined his flexibility by moving to the right of the back three when Ainsley Maitland-Niles came on.
On the opposite flank Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka was just as impressive, marauding forward at will to create and shoot at goal.
He hit the side-netting from Tyrone Mings’ lovely flick early in the second half and won a penalty, which Calvert-Lewin dispatched confidently, from Cyrus Christie when he raced past the Ireland right-back.
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Kieran Trippier likely remain Southgate’s first choices, but this game showed that England’s depth at full-back is frightening.
5. Ireland blunt
For Ireland it was a night with few positives as they struggled to get out of their half. Early openings crafted down the right by Daryl Horgan went unfinished and it got worse from then on.
Adam Idah was isolated up front by himself and the away side’s first shot on target came once they were already 3-0 down. Dean Henderson made two routine saves on his debut, but Ireland’s blunt attack failed to find a viable way to goal.
Ireland have now failed to score in their last five games, with manager Stephen Kenny overseeing a dire period which reads: six games, four defeats, two draws, one goal.
Kenny may not have much to work with, and he may have been hampered further by injuries, but improvement up front is an absolute must.