England youngsters point to bright future, but give Gareth Southgate a big selection headache
Without Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson and several others, England put Republic of Ireland to the sword in style at Wembley, with some young stars shining bright. The problem Gareth Southgate has between now and the Euros next summer, is how to fit them all in, writes Pete Hall.
Jack Grealish and Jadon Sancho celebrate England's second against Ireland
In the run-up to a major tournament hopes are being built up, with grown men are starting to dream of Harry Kane lifting the European Championship trophy next summer already, fantasies brought about by some vibrant, youth-inspired football from England against Republic of Ireland at Wembley.
Without Kane, without Raheem Sterling and without Jordan Henderson, England were too good for Ireland, with some young players, not always the first names in Gareth Southgate's starting XI, showing the international stage does not faze them one bit.
Harry Maguire of England celebrates with Tyrone Mings and Jadon Sancho
Image credit: Getty Images
The effervescent Jack Grealish was superb as he picked up the ball in a variety of positions, making him simply unplayable at times. You can see it now, kids rolling down their socks below their calves as they mimic Grealish after an England win next July. Grealish has provided assists in back-to-back games for England – he’s had a hand in 12 goals in 11 appearances in all competitions for club and country this season, too.
Jadon Sancho, even though he has not hit top gear for Dortmund this season, looked at home on the right of England's forward line, taking his goal with aplomb in the first half, to score his first international goal in over a year - not pleasant viewing for Manchester United fans.
England have four or five right-backs who could get into most international sides, but Reece James, at the age of 20, is arguably the most in-form of the lot. The Chelsea right-back has everything, and will take some disposing by Trent Alexander-Arnold et al.
Bukayo Saka was excellent too against Ireland, with his versatility a real asset to Southgate, while Mason Mount was similarly superb at Wembley.
With Jude Bellingham coming on in the second half, becoming the third youngest player ever to be capped by England, the XI on the field at the end of the match at Wembley consisted of - Dean Henderson: 23. James: 20. Ainsley Maitland-Niles: 23. Saka: 19. Phil Foden: 20. Bellingham: 17. Sancho: 20. Tammy Abraham: 23.
Marcus Rashford was not even involved in the tonight. Neither was Conor Coady, The list goes on.
Much was made of the success England's youth teams enjoyed in recent years. England U20s became world champions, the U19s European champions. The U18s retained the Toulon tournament, while the U17s were European Championship finalists.
Gareth Southgate, Jude Bellingham
Image credit: Getty Images
Many of those players involved in the various triumphs have now made the jump to the senior side, and are starting to show their worth on the big stage. Most importantly, they are hungry for more.
"I want to play as much as possible," Grealish said after the Ireland win. "All I have to do is impress the manager as much as I can, since I've been here he's been brilliant with me, speaking to me on and off the pitch, telling me what he wants me to do, and that's what I've tried to do, so finger's crossed."
In the forward and full-back position especially, there is so much strength in depth, enough, in theory, to spearhead a push for the title at the Euros next summer.
It is the hope that kills you, as England fans know all to well, but on this evidence, with so much talent vying for a place in an England side, it is hard to not get carried away.
Southgate: Scotland qualifying 'makes our lives difficult'