A cunning plan for Gareth: just keep picking Bellingham and Foden | England

new balance


How about this for a plan from this point on, however long the dog days of late Gareth England might last, no matter how powerful the temptation to keep it tight and win on the details? Nine times out of 10, just pick Bellingham and Foden. The 10th time, think about it, weigh the options, the need for caution and control and then just pick Bellingham and Foden again.

Sometimes talent ends the argument. And while it would of course be wrong to read too much into a lo-fi early-season nothing-game against moderate opponents, at times you simply have to believe the evidence of your eyes.

At Hampden Park both of England’s most-gifted attacking midfielders started against a Scotland team England had been warned to be wary of, although on this evidence it wasn’t immediately clear why or of what.

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And at times in the first half there was a sense of something stirring here, of patterns emerging, England’s two most talented attacking midfielders gambolling about the place with a sense of zip and glee and basic pleasure rarely associated with any England side in any of the preceding 150 years marked by this heritage friendly.

Never mind the past. Here is a little glimpse of the future. Or at least one version of it. Talent provides it own answers. But it is also a burden, responsibility to be discharged.

Will it be allowed to flourish? How far can we go with this? Will Southgate actually get the credit he deserves for giving these two wonderful players the balance in deep midfield to flourish?

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Probably not. But this was a kind of progress from the trapped energy of Wroclaw, based around the added stability of fielding Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice together in deep midfield.

In front of that double pivot Bellingham, in particular, played like a high-spec six-litre footballing machine: super-mobile, physically dominant, taking the ball from any angle then surging off into the correct channel of space every time and just demonstrably the best player on the pitch.

Jude Bellingham celebrates with Phil Foden after scoring against Scotland
Jude Bellingham celebrates with Phil Foden after scoring against Scotland. Photograph: Robert Perry/EPA

As Scotland threatened (kind of) to level the game in the second half he produced an absurd, playground-style 360-degree spin, drive and pass to put Harry Kane in to make it 3-1, as the game would finish.

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Bellingham was a little bit nasty too, shoving defenders away, trying to bulldoze through three players at a time, disrupting Scotland’s composure at the start.

He is so clearly the star of this England team now, its most high-end part, the one player a high-class opposition will plan around, fear, make changes to combat. It is a genuine change of tone after six years as a highly competent unit. Now we have a sword as well as a shield.

Actually, make that two, because Foden was also excellent for an hour, gliding and twirling, funnelling the ball on in the same movement, a footballer who always seems to be running through lighter air.

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Foden had been used as a stick with which to thrash Southgate over his selection of a conservative midfield for the Ukraine game. England’s manager was prickly in the post-match exchanges, as he tends to be now, a little more steely, with his wire wool founding fathers’ beard, adamant that the real issue isn’t bravery or favouring his old lags, but balance, chemistry, structure.

And Southgate is of course right, just as he would be right to point out what happened at Hampden is that he created the architecture for that creative talent to function.

Southgate started Bellingham in the centre, his correct position in this team, any team; and Foden on the right with some freedom to drift a little.

England started well, decorating this 150th anniversary game with a genuinely urgent performance. Through the afternoon the pubs around Glasgow Central train station had been host to a select horde of travelling fans offering the usual public service warnings about the perils of the Irish Republican Army, the Luftwaffe, and the social fabric of their host nation, soundtrack to English football’s cultural mission to the world. The years may pass. But the song remains the same.

And this was in its own way a perfect Britain: The Anger Years occasion. Now, who fancies a nice hot cup of The Past? Hampden did it nicely, with some cheery, under-stated pageantry. God Save The King was drowned out by a vast hail of boos which, purely as a piece of music, was arguably an upgrade. Flower of Scotland was met with a full round of jeering, taunting arms-wide fight gestures on both sides. Football heritage. This is what it looks like.

Just after the half-hour England scored a lovely opening goal, a four-man move that turned on Bellingham’s delightful dinked pass to Marcus Rashford and a clever finish from Foden. Bellingham got the second after another excellent move. England dipped a little, then found their second wind. The balance was good here, Phillips a quiet source of strength, Bellingham the headline act. Can England stick with this? Is there anything to lose in simply going with the talent? This felt like a step closer.

new balance



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