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England offer glimpse of the future as Southgate sticks it to Big Six

Iceland offered little in the way of resistance and were occasionally downright generous to Gareth Southgate‘s side, particularly for Mount’s goal, but if there was one takeaway for the England manager, it was the added vibrancy of playing Mount, Foden and Jack Grealish together.

If Southgate is going to persist with his controversial 3-4-3 formation – and it looks for all the world like he is – then the trio have the potential to bring the system to life, particularly against opposition who defend deep and in numbers, as Iceland did.

Having played in the front three against Belgium, Mount was back in the midfield two where he impressed in the friendly win over the Republic of Ireland, and provided energy, creativity and forward momentum in a bright display.

The Chelsea playmaker had freedom to roam and keep popping up across the final third, while his childhood friend Rice held the fort.

Mount added an unpredictability and spark that England lacked in the defeat to Belgium and, given Southgate’s options in attack, it would make sense to continue playing him in a deeper role, even against tougher opponents.

Grealish and Foden flanked Harry Kane and revelled in the set up, dropping into the pockets of space created as the full-backs pushed up the flanks.

For Foden, the evening felt poignant after he had disgraced himself in Iceland. He put that episode firmly behind him with a hugely positive display, creating the first goal with a free-kick which Rice glanced into the far corner with his shoulder after 20 minutes, and scoring two fine finishes late on.

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Foden lit up Wembley

/ PA )

The Manchester City youngster had already gone close twice in the first half but finished a slick move inside the area before rifling home a brilliant 25-yard drive into the corner, as Iceland tired following the loss of Birkir Már Saevarsson early in the second half.

Grealish, starting a third consecutive England match this camp, once again shone, driving at Iceland time and again with his potent mix of speed and guile. He was particularly influential in the build-up to Mount’s goal, a scrappy close-range finish after Iceland made a hash of Bukayo Saka’s cross.

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Grealish was impressive again

/ Getty Images )

It was not so long ago that Southgate was struggling to fit Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Raheem Sterling into his side and England’s attack was being billed as one of the best in the world.

Now, the emergence of Grealish and Foden has further increased the manager’s options and the competition for two places next to Kane is fierce.

England given glimpse of the future

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A fine performance from England’s young lions

/ POOL/AFP via Getty Images )

If nothing else, a meaningless match offered confirmation that England could yet be the biggest winners from the delay to the European Championships.

The emergence of Grealish and Foden has added a different type of player to Southgate’s attack, dramatically increasing the options at his disposal.

There is now more trickery and creativity to add to the directness and pace of Sancho and Sterling.

Saka, who impressed for the third time this fortnight, is another player who will surely benefit from the delay. He created Mount’s goal on one of a succession of forward runs and played a part in Foden’s first.

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Saka was too quick for the visitors

/ Pool via REUTERS )

It was telling that his marker, Saevarsson, earned a second yellow card for a frustrated tug on the teenager.

Mount and Rice, who could easily be England’s midfield two against Croatia in June, are not 22 until January and will surely be more influential at the finals this summer than they would have been a year earlier.

All that is before you consider Reece James, Kalvin Phillips, Conor Coady and the vast improvement in Kane’s fitness from last June to now. Despite a troubled 2020, England look set to go into the Euros as one of the biggest winners from the delay.

Southgate sticks it to the Big Six

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A bold selection from Southgate

/ AP )

The England manager’s line-up felt like a message to Premier League managers that he will not bow to pressure from clubs.

Before the game, the England manager found himself at the centre of a potential row after admitting there was “huge” pressure from the League’s title-contenders to rest their stars for the dead-rubber.

Instead, Southgate named near enough his strongest possible XI, with two Man City players, two from Tottenham, one from Man United, one from Chelsea and one from Arsenal.

Jose Mourinho, in particular, must have been spitting feathers when Kane and Eric Dier were named in the team, and even more so when the captain played 75 minutes and Dier the full match.

Southgate, however, is conscious of the limited number of fixtures before the Euros and is clearly not going to be pushed around by the big clubs.


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