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International friendly, November 12 2020

England 3
  • Maguire (18)
  • Sancho (31)
  • Calvert-Lewin (56 pen)
Republic of Ireland 0

England gave a display of their strength in depth as an experimental side ran out comfortable winners against the Republic of Ireland at Wembley. Harry Maguire, Jadon Sancho and Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored the goals, the latter doing so from the penalty spot, as Gareth Southgate rang the changes for this friendly. Jack Grealish, Bukayo Saka, Reece James and Nick Pope were among the players handed a chance to stake their claim for a place in the team ahead of the delayed Euro 2020 tournament, while Jude Bellingham came off the bench to become England’s third youngest ever international, at 17 years and 137 days old.

“We were really pleased,” Southgate said after the win. “We had a good bedrock with the back three who were our most experienced players in the team. We were not as strong physically in midfield as we might normally be but we played with intelligence. Jack Grealish was very good. He’s in really good form and he’s playing in the areas we want him to play. We wanted to give Jude Bellingham 20 minutes or so to give him a feel of it. He was nervous at the start, it’s a huge occasion to come with the team at his age and be as mature as he has been with us.”

Starting line-ups

Shots / On target




Passes / Accurate


Fouls / Yellow / Red

England11 / 0 / 0
Ireland12 / 0 / 0

In possession: England

Gareth Southgate set England up in a 3-4-3 formation with a back three of Michael Keane, Harry Maguire and Tyrone Mings, and they came up against an Ireland side using a 4-2-3-1 when out of possession.

Ireland tried to disrupt England’s build-up in the early stages by using centre-forward Adam Idah to press the ball-carrying centre back and try to force play towards a flank. Number 10 Alan Browne sometimes supported Idah’s press by joining him in pressing another England centre-back, and at other times occupied one of England’s two deep, central midfielders. Conor Hourihane picked up the other central midfielder, leaving Jeff Hendrick as the spare man.

England looked to use wide attackers Jack Grealish and Jadon Sancho inside the pitch in an attempt to overload the central areas. This made Ireland even more compact than they wanted to be and created space on the outside for England’s wing-backs to advance into.

England’s central midfielders, meanwhile, Harry Winks and Mason Mount, played different roles in order to further disrupt Ireland’s organisation. Mount tended to play further forward and often moved on the blindside of the Ireland midfield while Winks played in deeper position, where he is more comfortable, often moving towards the right-back position to try and drag Browne out of the central areas.

England had some success playing simple vertical passes from defence straight through to the players in between the lines. Grealish and Sancho had the freedom to move wherever they wanted, and even at times moved across to the other side of the pitch to create overloads. Accessing these two creative attackers was one of England’s priorities in possession and they both looked to attack quickly after receiving the ball. On the occasions where Sancho or Grealish remained on the outside, the wing-backs moved infield.

Interestingly, Reece James tended to do this in the first half, whereas Bukayo Saka primarily did so in the second half.

Once England had the ball between the lines, they tended to look to the wide areas to bypass the last line of Ireland’s defence. Their most common tactic was using a diagonal pass to the widest player, before a penetrative run was made into the half-space either by the player who had played the initial pass or a third man. This combination usually involved a wide attacker, wing-back and one central midfielder or the opposite wide attacker – and even centre-back Mings on occasion. This positional fluidity and flexibility made it very difficult for Ireland to track the England players’ runs.

Southgate may well have been left disappointed by the lack of goals given the number of times his side got into good scoring positions. Despite the scoreline, two goals were the result of Ireland’s inability to clear set-pieces and the third came from the penalty spot, while England only hit the target with five of their 20 attempts on goal.

A number of England’s lower crosses were blocked by the Ireland defenders and deflected behind for corners, while the aerial crosses in open play rarely met the intended target. The introductions of Tammy Abraham and Phil Foden did little to improve the quality in the final third, although the game had long since been decided as a contest by this point.

In pictures

In possession: Ireland

Ireland manager Stephen Kenny set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, while England used a 5-2-3 without the ball, with wing-backs Reece James and Bukayo Saka dropping back into defence.

Ireland looked to play out from the back but came up against an intense and aggressive England press. England were a man down in central midfield, so they used Dominic Calvert-Lewin to screen passes into Jeff Hendrick when the centre-backs or goalkeeper had possession. Jack Grealish and Jadon Sancho looked to press the centre-backs but when they did so they ensured they blocked any passing lines into central midfield or to the wide attackers who moved inside frequently. This was particularly important as the wing-backs were responsible for pressing the Ireland full-backs while Mason Mount and Harry Winks picked up Conor Hourihane and Alan Browne in midfield. The narrow positioning of Sancho and Grealish made England compact right from the first phase of the press.

England allowed Ireland to move the ball in front of them and diagonally out to the full-backs but concentrated on restricting Ireland’s access to the central areas. This led to Ireland only really being able to play on the outside of England’s back three. When Ireland were able to play forwards centrally, the recipient of the pass always found themselves under pressure from behind.

Ireland tried to use switches of play to take advantage of any space that the narrow positions of Grealish and Sancho left out wide, but they struggled to break England down this way and they had difficulty in generating good quality chances from out wide. Additionally, Nick Pope was keen to come and affect any aerial crosses into the penalty area.

Towards the end of the game, Ireland managed to play through England more regularly. Phil Foden and Tammy Abraham were not as effective out of possession as Grealish and Calvert-Lewin had been, and Ireland were able to exploit the central overload more frequently. Despite this, Ireland still failed to create any high-quality opportunities and didn’t really cause the hosts any problems throughout the game.


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