England won their final UEFA Nations League game of the 2020-21 campaign tonight, defeating Iceland 4-0 at Wembley. The match was actually a dead-rubber, as England couldn’t qualify for the finals while Iceland had already been relegated. But it was still good to see Gareth Southgate’s side express themselves a little more.
After some early pressure from England, Declan Rice opened the scoring with a flicked header from a Phil Foden free-kick on 20 minutes. And just four minutes later, Mason Mount doubled the lead after some quick attacking play.
Iceland soaked up an insane amount of pressure for the remainder of the first half, but England couldn’t find another goal. And after Birkir Saevarsson was sent off for a second bookable offense, the visitors were forced to drop even deeper.
They were able to hold England off for a little longer, but it was never going to last, and a brilliant quickfire double for Foden in the last 10 minutes gave Southgate’s side an impressive victory.
Here are five talking points from England’s win over Iceland.
#1 The game felt like an England World Cup qualifier
Everyone was well aware that this game was a dead rubber before it began, but in the end, it didn’t even resemble an international friendly. Instead, this was more akin to the kind of games that England face during qualifying campaigns for the Euros or the World Cup – a 90-minute attempt to break down a horribly deep defense that usually ends with a heavy victory.
Did Iceland come to Wembley with any attacking intent at all? To be fair to them, it did seem like they did early on in the game. But it was soon painfully clear that they were hugely outclassed. England pinned them into their own half for the majority of the game – enjoying 78% possession – and on another night, could’ve had another four goals.
Essentially, the UEFA Nations League shouldn’t be this easy, and likely will never be this easy again, as Iceland have now been relegated from League A. However, it was still a game worth watching purely because England’s players at least showed attacking intent and looked like they wanted to be there.
#2 England looked much improved without their dual holding midfielders
The doubters will definitely tell England fans not to get carried away with tonight’s win, as, after all, it was against a very weak Iceland side. However, compared to the rest of their UEFA Nations League campaign, this was a massive breath of fresh air.
Since switching to a 3-4-3 system back in September, England’s games had become a real slog to watch, with Gareth Southgate’s men playing dour football devoid of creativity. However, the truth is that 3-4-3 need not be such a defensive system – it was being made so by Southgate’s penchant for picking two holding midfielders in the center of the pitch.
On the other hand, Tonight's game saw Mason Mount partnering Declan Rice in midfield, and the difference was marked right away. Mount buzzed around from the start of the game on and off the ball, and it was easy to see that he was providing a link to England’s three attackers – Jack Grealish, Harry Kane, and Phil Foden.
All four men ended up having an outstanding game – even if Kane didn’t score – and England could well have had more goals than the four they got.
Essentially, the message to Southgate should be clear. If England are to play a 3-4-3, then one of the two central midfield spots must be handed to an offensively-minded player – even if that involves leaving Jordan Henderson out of the side altogether. England are simply a far better team for it.