The Good, the Bad and the Opposition: Observations from England’s 3-0 friendly win over Republic of Ireland
England 3-0 Republic of Ireland
November 12th, 2020
Wembley Stadium, London
By Stewart Flaherty (@stewartflaherty)
England warmed up for the last leg of UEFA Nations League Group A play with a comfortable 3-0 win over Republic of Ireland at Wembley Stadium. Captain Harry Maguire opened the scoring from a Harry Winks cross before Jadon Sancho and a Dominic Calvert-Lewin penalty rounded out the scoring.
You can find a full and detailed game report on the BBC website here.
REBOUND PERFORMANCE FROM HARRY MAGUIRE
Manchester United captain Maguire has been riding a difficult spell in his career of late, with ongoing legal trouble compounded by a red card in England’s 1-0 UEFA Nations League defeat to Denmark last time out. Gareth Southgate continued to show faith in Maguire, selecting him and handing him the captain’s armband for this game.
This time around, Southgate was rewarded for his faith as Maguire opened the scoring and put in a solid display in the middle of a back three alongside Tyrone Mings and Michael Keane.
FORM OF EMERGING STARS
In contrast to the struggles of Maguire, Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish and Everton striker Calvert-Lewin are arguably in the best run of form in their entire careers.
Grealish has registered 4 goals and 6 assists in his last 6 games for Villa, including a 2 goal, 3 assist display in Villa’s shocking 7-2 destruction of defending EPL champions Liverpool. Calvert-Lewin has been the catalyst for Everton’s hot start to the season, netting 8 goals in the opening 7 games of the season, and both players are managing to carry their good form onto the international stage.
Grealish shone in a Man of the Match display while also laying on England’s second goal with a pass to assist Sancho. Calvert-Lewin led the attack well, showing strong aerial presence and the ability to link play with back to goal, before netting his second career England goal from the penalty spot after Bukayo Saka was fouled by Cyrus Christie. Both players are making strong cases for inclusion in the starting lineup as the European championships roll around next summer.
England’s attacking firepower has been more subdued of late since switching to the 3-4-3 formation, but the defensive line continues to be strong. This game saw England keep their 7th clean sheet in the last 9 matches played, remaining consistent while a number of different defenders and goalkeepers played over that span.
All three England defenders showed the ability to contribute in possession throughout this game, capped when Mings almost pulled off a spectacular assist by releasing Saka with a deft backheel.
CORE WEAKNESS IN CENTRAL MIDFIELD
There are not many bad things to come out of a convincing 3-0 win, but the England midfield is less than impressive defensively in the current 3-4-3 setup. Last time out Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen found dangerous spaces between the England lines in a match winning performance, and England typically find themselves a man down in terms of central midfielders. That was the case here as Winks and Mason Mount formed a partnership in a flat midfield four against a trio of Conor Hourihane, Jeff Hendrick and Alan Browne.
While the Irish did not do as much damage as Denmark, they were able to get on the ball facing forward in the heart of midfield and found time to pass forward consistently against England. Against better teams in the knockout stages of next summer’s tournament, this is something that could ultimately cost England.
FIXTURE CONGESTION AND TOUGH GAMES AHEAD
The shortened preseason enforced by COVID-19 and resulting congested schedule is something that has many Premier League managers concerned right now. With that being the case, England playing 3 games in the next 7 days is not going to be a welcome state of affairs for the club managers of Southgate’s team.
While resting key players will be a goal of Southgate during this stretch, England need results if they are to overturn Belgium’s lead at the top of the group and qualify for the UEFA Nations League final four. To qualify, England will likely need a win in Brussels this weekend against a Belgium team looking to avenge their 2-1 loss at Wembley Stadium last time the teams met.
THE OPPOSITION – REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
While England had the better of play for most of the game, Newcastle United star Hendrick played very well and retained possession for Ireland consistently. Hendrick has played both right and central midfield at club level this season, and sat alongside Hourihane centrally here to give England duo Winks and Mount a lot of work to do on the defensive end.
JOHN EGAN INJURY AND SHANE DUFFY POOR FORM
As mentioned earlier with England, Ireland’s players have a congested schedule, and Sheffield United captain John Egan limping off injured in the 14th minute will not have been a welcome sight for a Blades team who are rooted at the foot of the Premier League table after a poor start to the season.
The signing of Duffy by Glasgow Celtic was seen by many as a hammer blow to their rivals as the defending champions strengthened their backline with the addition of a proven EPL center back. Things are not panning out quite as scripted for Duffy, as Celtic have conceded 6 goals in their last 3 games, a run that includes a 2-0 loss to arch rivals Glasgow Rangers.
In this game, Duffy struggled to come to terms with the strength of England target man Calvert-Lewin, and was beaten in the air by Maguire for England’s opening goal. Ireland manager Stephen Kenny will be hoping for an improved showing from his captain in the upcoming UEFA Nations League B game against Wales this weekend.
GAME PLAN TO ATTACK OUT WIDE
Ireland have some talented players to build around, but arguably lack a true scoring threat at center forward in their current squad. The game plan here was to attack down the flanks against England’s back three, with Callum O’Dowda and Daryl Horgan being key parts of their attack.
The duo did find space outside of England’s center backs at times, and this tactic also served the dual purpose of pinning back England wide midfielders Saka and Reece James into defensive, and subsequently less dangerous positions for phases of play.
18’ ENG Harry Maguire (Harry Winks) 1-0
31’ ENG Jadon Sancho (Jack Grealish) 2-0
56’ ENG Dominic Calvert-Lewin PK (Bukayo Saka) 3-0
MAN OF THE MATCH
#11 LM Jack Grealish (England) – Grealish displayed quality on the ball and the ability to both beat his man off the dribble and cut inside centrally to pick up the ball in pockets of space and drive the attack forward. An impressive display was capped when he assisted Jadon Sancho for England’s second goal.
3: LM Jack Grealish – Man of the Match.
2: RM Jadon Sancho – Played well on the right flank, combining with James to provide consistent service and also floating inside. Scored England’s second goal with a good finish after being fed inside the penalty area by Grealish.
1: CD Harry Maguire – This game was a bright spot in some tough times for Maguire as the captain put in a strong defensive performance and opened the scoring with a strong header.
Republic of Ireland
3: CM Jeff Hendrick – Impressive display at the heart of midfield for Hendrick who saw plenty of the ball and connected possession well, while also covering ground and playing well on the defensive end.
2: RM Daryl Horgan – The quick winger showed intent and ability to get in behind, chasing down through balls and providing crosses and cutbacks into the area when given the opportunity.
1: ACM Alan Browne – The Preston north End midfielder capitalized on the extra man Ireland often had in the heart of midfield, providing outlet passes for Hendrick and looking to pick up the ball between England lines.
ENG: Pope (Henderson), Mings (Maitland-Niles), Maguire, Keane, Saka, Winks, Mount (Bellingham), James, Grealish (Foden), Sancho, Calvert-Lewin (Abraham).
IRE: Randolph, Doherty, Egan (O’Shea), Duffy, Christie (Long), Hourihane (Molumby), Hendrick, Browne, O’Dowda (McLean), Horgan (Brady), Idah (Curtis).
Full highlights can be found on the England YouTube channel here.