Fantastic Phil Foden vindicates Gareth Southgate’s decision to ignore midfield clamour

Fantastic Phil Foden vindicates Gareth Southgate’s decision to ignore midfield clamour

Gareth Southgate revelled in showing England could play beautiful, free-flowing football without either Phil Foden or James Maddison in midfield.

“Speak to Pep [Guardiola],” was Southgate’s reply this week when asked why he doesn’t try Foden in midfield but England’s display in Glasgow was an even better response.

Foden was electric on the right of a front three featuring Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford in the 3-1 win at Hampden Park. The 23-year-old capped off an excellent first-half performance by turning in Kyle Walker’s cross-cum-shot from close range in the 32nd minute.

The entire first half felt like vindication for Southgate, who issued several barbed responses after a dominant match. He referenced how he faced “a lot of questions” about moving Foden into the midfield before kick-off. He also said “the roof fell in” after England’s 1-1 draw with Ukraine on Saturday. To make such statements, Southgate needed to entertain on his terms, amid criticism from some that he plays negative football, and it clicked.

Foden was a creative force from the wing, a role he often plays at Manchester City, but was allowed to drift into central areas. Rashford was involved in two of the three goals despite not getting onto the scoresheet. The Manchester United forward was an outlet on the counter-attack and, through his Heung-min Son-like qualities, linked well with former Tottenham striker Kane.

The trio’s balance was of course further improved by man-of-the-match Jude Bellingham. The £88.5million summer signing for Real Madrid killed suggestions any other player should play his favoured No10 role. He blew Scotland away playing the way he does at the Bernabeu, a position he labelled the “freedom role” in his post-match TV interview. Bellingham linked with Rashford, Foden and Kane as he got an assist and a goal.

“I think that high sort of midfield position as an attacking eight, or where he played tonight [is his best position],” Southgate said. “He likes to run forward. He can get in the box.

“His game to receive is a little bit better in those areas and tonight, his athleticism to press was important as Scotland’s system is difficult to play against. We slightly changed our system to put pressure all over the pitch and he did it well.”

The front four were given freedom by Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips, who screened a comfortable four-man defence. Southgate showed Bellingham is an attacking midfielder and now feels close to his favoured formula for the upcoming tournament in Germany next summer.

Bukayo Saka, twice England’s player of the year, will remain ahead of either Foden or Rashford even after they took their chances. Jack Grealish was selected for the September internationals and remains a brilliant option after pulling out with a thigh injury. Maddison remains in the frame amid a brilliant start for Spurs but couldn’t take his chance on the left wing against Ukraine. Raheem Sterling is in his best form since joining Chelsea, despite his non-selection. Eberechi Eze also looked bright from the bench on Tuesday night, making just his second appearance for his country.

England have an embarrassment of riches in attack but, for Southgate, less is more. The clamour to fit in any more attackers will be ignored in favour of balance, leaving the England boss with a difficult decision over who takes the last spot in his forward line.