So there you have it folks, the first international break of the 2020/21 season – no, August’s break came before the start of proper football – is in the books.
God, it’s still pretty dire, eh?
Nevertheless, before we can all enjoy the return of club football…for another 24 days before we endure more of this international nonsense, yay, let’s take one final look back at what we’ve seen over the past ten days.
Specifically, with the eight things we learned.
There was a time where there was unanimous excitement regarding the England national team.
With a mightily gifted generation of fresh attacking talent emerging in the wake of an unforgettable World Cup journey, the trajectory for the Three Lions appeared upwards, and only upwards, for the start of the 2020s.
But all that energy and optimism gained from the past two years has seemingly been sapped from us English fans in the space of three days – even though Gareth Southgate’s side topped the world’s number one ranked outfit in that time frame.
The Three Lions are now a pragmatic, formulaic side with the manager’s personnel selection allowing minimal scope for invention and innovation. In summary, they’re a tough watch.
Nevertheless, England’s 3-4-3 has the potential to be destructive with a fully fit squad at Southgate’s disposal, but the boss has to get team selection spot on.
Portugal were certainly a surprise victor of the European Championship four years ago but they’re heading into next summer’s tournament as a serious force.
Unlike modern-day club football where systems, philosophies and principles are denoted as imperative, the international scene is all about establishing a balance. Fernando Santos certainly has that with Portugal.
Their capacity to frustrate and remain disciplined in a compact block was laid bare in the stalemate with France, while their exciting, multi-faceted attack – with Cristiano Ronaldo absent, by the way – was on full display in a 3-0 triumph over Sweden.
The emergence of Joao Felix, Bruno Fernandes, Raphael Guerreiro and Ruben Dias since 2016 have evolved Santos’ side into almost the complete unit. Keep an eye out for them next summer.
Okay, this is nothing new, we already knew this. But the Irish are that incompetent in front of goal that we just had to include it.
It was a horrible, horrible week to be an Ireland fan with their unjust penalty shootout defeat in their Euro 2020 play-off in Slovakia followed up by a stalemate against Wales and a 1-0 loss to Finland.
Three games, no goals. But no 1-1 draws, at least. Progress on the unpredictability front.
Stephen Kenny will be desperate to oversee the evolution of Troy Parrott, Adam Idah and Aaron Connolly in the national team.
Unbeaten in their Nations League group, Jonny Williams bagging late winners, all without Gareth Bale?! Wales are poised to upset the odds at the European Championship once again.
While they may be as similarly pragmatic as the rest of the Home Nations, there’s no doubting that Ryan Giggs has a talented pool of players to work with.
Alongside known stars such as Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Will Vaulks, the likes of Joe Rodon, Ethan Ampadu, David Brooks and Neco Williams are emerging.
Apparently, it was a ‘good thing’ for Manchester United that Romelu Lukaku, who ‘plays like he’s wearing spray-on jeans and Timberlands’, left Old Trafford in 2019.
Give me a break.
Lukaku’s exit has been the making of the Belgian brute, with the prolific and destructive form he’s displayed at a club level over the past 12 months translating onto the international scene.
He bullied England in the first half on Sunday before the Three Lions wised up after the break – but was still able to get on the scoresheet via a spot-kick. The Inter hitman then added a brace against Iceland on Wednesday night.
Lukaku’s now scored a remarkable 55 times for the national team, including a staggering 44 in his last 45 appearances.
Undoubtedly one of the best strikers Europe has to offer.
You may have seen a few ‘name a bigger fall in grace’ in regards to Spain over the past week, with many trashing their current generation in comparison to the imperious 2008-2012 force which won back-to-back-to-back major tournaments.
Now, while Luis Enrique’s current side is certainly levels below the Luis Aragonés and Vicente del Bosque-led Roja outfits, there’s nonetheless plenty to like in 2020 Spain.
From Ansu Fati to impressive dynamics, Dani Olmo to superb coaching, La Furia Roja have the tools to be a contender but the recent break proved they’re not quite there yet.
They lack a ruthless number nine, thrust in transition and a cutting edge in the final third. This Spain side are typically blessed with tremendous first and second phase players and boast dynamic profiles down the flanks, but their lack of a killer instinct in the final third is costing them.
They scored just once in their recent three games, succumbing to a surprise 1-0 defeat in Ukraine also.
It’s Steve Clarke’s Scots who may well be having the best time of it among the Home Nations.
Since succumbing to a 4-0 rout in Russia in a Euro qualifier last October, Scotland have enjoyed an eight-game unbeaten run which has seen them top their Nations League group. It’s their longest streak of such kind in 32 years.
A penalty shootout triumph over Israel – their first in history – means they’re now one win away from next summer’s Euros. Only Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Serbia stand in the Tartan Army’s way.
Something just isn’t quite right with Die Mannschaft. They’re a shadow of ruthlessly efficient machine they’re often tagged.
Instead, they look frail amid a scrambled search for an identity as part of Low’s ‘revitalisation’ of the national side. The German boss has tried a whole lot tactically to rejuvenate a squad humiliated in Russia two years ago. But from man-marking to three at the back, little has paid off.
He selected a starting XI and formation which would’ve pleased most in their 3-3 draw with Switzerland and there was certainly a lot to like. Germany looked fluid and varied going forward while competent in their counter-press. Their defensive vulnerabilities, though, were stark.
Low may need to oversee the return of the Old Guard if he’s to stay in the job.