Football Features

“He could be the x-factor they need” – Five things learned as new faces help England beat Wales

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:36, 8 October 2020 | Updated: 9:44, 30 March 2021

In a lively night of football, England beat Wales 3-0 at Wembley.

The friendly saw Gareth Southgate hand out four more debuts and saw those debutants turn in superb performances. What did we learn?

1. “Captain Jack” goes international

For years, people longed for Jack Grealish to get an England call-up. Then he did. After that they wanted him to play for England. Then he did, coming off the bench against Denmark. After that they wanted him to start for England, to get a chance to properly strut his stuff.

Tonight he got that chance, and strut he did.

Grealish was the best player on the park as England romped to victory over Wales. The Englishman created the opening goal with a beautiful bit of Beckham-esque wing-work. Drifting over to the right he created half a yard for himself then curved a gorgeous cross in for Dominic Calvert-Lewin. He later won the free-kick from which England made it two as well.

Grealish is a sensational player, and his skill-set is not ideal effective but perfectly suited to tournament football. Here’s a playmaker with near elite dribbling skills and a fantastic game intelligence as well as the ability to win fouls seemingly at will. In a tight tournament, especially in the knockout rounds, especially given how many excellent set-piece takers England have, he would be absolutely invaluable.

If England are to make anything of themselves at Euro 2021 and beyond, then Jack Grealish has to be deeply involved in the set-up. Maybe he doesn’t start every game, but tonight he showed that he can bend international matches to his own will in a way that not many other Englishmen are capable of. He could be the x-factor to take The Three Lions over the line, and can no longer be ignored.

2. Conor Coady leads the defenders three

If England were playing a back four, then the starters should come from Harry Maguire, Tyrone Mings and Joe Gomez. Those are England’s three best defenders. However if Southgate chooses to play three at the back then the first name on the team-sheet shouldn’t be any of them but instead Wolves’ centre-back Conor Coady.

Coady is a very specific kind of defender, a sweeper and an organiser. He excels at cleaning up behind others, or attacking loose balls. When paired with two stoppers, as he is for Wolves, he becomes a fantastic leader of the defence. You could hear Coady barking orders and constantly guiding his back-line, and that’s not something any of England’s other defenders do.

Of course Coady scored England’s second goal, but that was incidental much as he loved it (and much as it is amazing that he’s now scored as many England goals as he has league goals for Wolves). What was impressive was how he ordered and commanded the back-line. Put him between Harry Maguire (or Joe Gomez) and Tyrone Mings and Coady will guide both to brilliance in that back three.

3. Wales need their star men

Ryan Giggs’ Welsh side put up a good fight against England but were ultimately soundly defeated. That wasn’t a surprise given the relative strengths of the sides even given Wales’ 15 month unbeaten run. With all their stars playing – David Brooks, Harry Wilson, Dan James and especially Aaron Ramsey and the talismanic Gareth Bale – one could have seen Wales put in a better showing tonight but no matter how well Ryan Giggs coaches his side (and they were the better team in the first-half) he can’t close the talent gap without his superstars. Don’t take too much from this result: Wales will be a very different prospect with the likes of Bale and Ramsey in the XI.

4. The Two Englands

England can play a back three as they did tonight, with Coady at the heart of things. Or they could play a back four without the Wolves man. They could deploy an attack revolving around Jack Grealish, or they could play Harry Kane with the blitzkrieg pace of Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho. Midfield could be handed to Kalvin Phillips, or spreading the responsibility out over two men.

Gareth Southgate has an avalanche of options available to him. So much so that he could put out two completely different XI’s and they could have a genuinely competitive match against each other. Obviously you’d tend to favour the side that has the more world-class players in it, but the tactical cohesion of the second 3-4-3 side would be so much more comprehensive it would be a genuine contest.

When was the last time Gareth Southgate had so many great options? This bodes extremely well as he constructs his squad for Euro 2021.

5. The unstoppable momentum of goalscoring

Dominic Calvert-Lewin came into this game with 9 goals so far for Everton. That is more than anyone else across Europe’s top five leagues. He just can’t miss right now so when he was handed his England debut, you had a feeling he would keep it going. And that’s exactly what he did, heading England into the lead against the run of play. A magnificent moment and proof that he can be trusted to handle the big stage.

Then Calvert-Lewin was taken off, being protected ahead of bigger cames to come. In his place Danny Ings moved to a central role and guess what he did? Well, you don’t need to guess, you know what he did. The same thing he’s been doing ever since the start of last season. Tyrone Mings headed a corner down and Ings contorted his body and belted an overhead kick into the net.

These men are absolutely unstoppable right now. And as always with goals; the more they score, the more their confidence will raise and, hey, the more they’ll score. “I’ll be ready step in if I’m needed,” said Calvert-Lewin after the match. And you can imagine Ings would say the same thing. And they should absolutely be used to back-up Harry Kane in England’s squad.

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