In a largely pointless friendly game at Wembley tonight, England picked up a comfortable 3-0 win over the Republic of Ireland. The result gave England their first victory over Ireland since 1985.
Gareth Southgate named a somewhat experimental XI, but his side linked together well throughout the game. Captain Harry Maguire opened England’s account with a header after 18 minutes, and the lead was doubled by a nice goal from Jadon Sancho on 31 minutes.
England continued to create chances until slowing down late in the game, but there was still time for a third goal. That strike came from the penalty spot, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin converting confidently following a foul on Bukayo Saka.
Here are five talking points from England’s victory.
#1 England were far more dynamic with Mount in central midfield
England fans have had to suffer through some dour games since Gareth Southgate switched to a 3-4-3 system back in September, but tonight’s game finally bucked that trend. England looked dynamic, dangerous, and confident coming forward and created plenty of chances – taking a ridiculous 20 shots at goal.
So what made the difference? Essentially, it was the simple fact that Southgate chose to have England start with at least one creative midfielder in the center of the pitch. The man chosen for the role was Chelsea’s Mason Mount, and he was excellent, linking up well with fellow attackers Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish.
Meanwhile, fellow central midfielder Harry Winks simply did the dirty work and mopped up behind him – although he did provide an excellent cross for Maguire’s goal.
Mount ended his game on 73 minutes and finished with a pass success rate of 91%, including three key passes. And while it was nice to see 17-year-old Jude Bellingham make his England debut, the team notably stopped creating proper chances once Mount was withdrawn in favor of the Borussia Dortmund youngster.
So will Southgate continue with this system and start Mount – or Phil Foden – in the same role against Belgium on Sunday? One would hope so, as it’s clear that England are a far better team when they’re not starting games with five defensive players.
#2 Ireland were desperately poor
For as well as England played tonight, it must be noted that the Republic of Ireland were extremely poor. Gareth Southgate’s men brushed aside another Home Nations team in the form of Wales last month. But it’s fair to say that Ryan Giggs’ side offered a far tougher test than Stephen Kenny’s men did tonight.
Ireland have struggled for goals throughout Kenny’s short reign – they’d only scored one in four games coming into tonight’s match. And judging by the way they performed at Wembley, it’s hardly a surprise.
Some of their build-up play tonight was excellent, but their final ball was largely non-existent, and they failed to test both Nick Pope and Dean Henderson in England’s goal.
In the end, Kenny’s side finished the game with just four shots on goal, two of which hit the target. Simply put, for any international side, that’s not good enough. It’s true that Ireland aren’t a strong team on paper right now, but most fans must’ve expected them to test England a little more than this.
Judging by this performance, they may be waiting for some time yet for their next major international tournament.