England’s performance against Hungary was disappointing on Saturday and so, too, was the result.
But, that said, I do understand Gareth Southgate wanting to have a look at one or two new faces, and I get that, of the four matches in this get-together, the Magyars away in front of 30,000 school kids will have been the most difficult get up for. Now it’s done and dusted, though, I don’t want any more experimentation from England.
I want to see Southgate playing his best team in as many games as possible between now and the World Cup, and especially against Germany tonight and Italy on Saturday. If we can go to Munich, put in a good performance and win 2-0, and the fans have enjoyed it, then it won’t half stand us in good stead for later in the year because we’re close enough to the World Cup for these things to matter.
Let’s say we face Hansi Flick’s side in the latter stages in Qatar — if we beat them this week then we’d go into that game full of beans. But if we lose 3-0 or 4-0, having made 16 substitutions, then we’ll have gifted Flick a team-talk along the lines of, ‘Lads, we beat these easily six months ago, so let’s go into the game relaxed’.
That’s why we must be be positive tonight, and that means seeing Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham paired together again in a midfield combination that has me salivating. I was pleased with Jarrod Bowen’s contribution on Saturday and he certainly did enough to put himself at the forefront of Southgate’s mind.
But, let’s have it straight, it’s not what he does in this get-together that will take him to Qatar, it’s what he does at the start of next season for West Ham. Which means Bellingham is the one who is within a whisker already of getting into the first team and I’m getting really excited about him because I just can’t praise the kid highly enough.
James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images)
People will say he didn’t do as much as they wanted him to against Hungary, but this is a lad who does all of the basics very well. I know Kalvin Phillips will come back and get himself into the frame. But with Bellingham knocking on the door, the Leeds star is the obvious one to knock out of the way because, as good as the Rice-Phillips partnership is, the one between Rice and Bellingham makes it look analogue in a digital age.
Bellingham is 18, he has played 100-plus games in senior football already and has 13 caps. Yet the fact he’s going so far under the radar rather than being shot up into the air out of rocket, as Wayne Rooney and Dele Alli were, means this lad could get to 23 that way and then, all of a sudden, be recognised as the world’s best midfielder and someone who is courted by every club on the planet.
What I like about Bellingham is that there’s nothing in his lifestyle that detracts from his performances in the way they did with Rooney and Alli. He’s a Rolls-Royce who behaves like a Rolls-Royce, and that couldn’t be better news for England.