So England made history. Except this was a shameful footnote with two players sent off in one game for the first time – as Reece James, on his full debut, was dismissed for dissent after the final whistle following on from Harry Maguire, whose confidence appears shattered, being red-carded for two clumsy, unnecessary lunges in the first half.
It summed up a sorry night in which good work, against Belgium in particular at the weekend, was undone and in which Harry Kane played a full 90 minutes – probably much to Jose Mourinho’s annoyance – and the in-form Jack Grealish strangely played none.
Gareth Southgate will look back at the ‘soft’ penalty England conceded to lose this Nations League tie and with it first place in their group as Belgium defeated Iceland. England dropped to third, in fact. Southgate will also consider the chances the 10-men created, and a world-class save by Kasper Schmeichel to preserve the result, and he will argue that his team showed resolve and togetherness in adversity. But the self-inflicted problems continue to mount and, with them, the focus will again fall on the discipline within the squad. Maybe it is too easy to link off-field and on-field issues but England have suffered from a bust-up between team-mates, flouting quarantine, breaching coronavirus rules to betting charges and red cards in the last year and the rot needs to be cut out. These are strange times, but it does not follow that there has to be such strange actions.
Watch: the most effective warm up routine
Southgate will face scrutiny over his team selection with Grealish remaining on the bench, despite the talismanic impact he made against Wales last week, as he turned to Jadon Sancho, who has barely played, instead.
Whatever the protestations it appears one of the Premier League’s most in-form players, and maybe one suited to such an occasion, still needs to convince Southgate, who oddly then brought on Dominic Calvert-Lewin to play on the left rather than at centre-forward.
In one fixture Maguire and James, who had been England’s best performer, became only the third and fourth players to be sent off playing for England at Wembley – following Paul Scholes in 1999 and Steven Gerrard in 2012. Whatever the circumstances, that is something the manager has to get on top off and especially after Kyle Walker’s dismissal last month away to Iceland. This is not the behaviour of teams set to challenge at tournaments as England lost their heads.
There was confusion over what happened with James and maybe he was frustrated, as were his team-mates, but it is not good enough from the 20-year-old, especially as the game was over. While Maguire will understandably come in for strong criticism, he actually appears to need help. The dismissal was reckless. Maguire appears shot. He appears broken and desperately in need of a break. He is a shadow of the player he was at the 2018 World Cup. He appears to be suffering – whatever the protests – to what happened to him with his conviction in a Greek court. The world’s most expensive defender actually looks pained and leaden.
Denmark lead! 🇩🇰
Christian Eriksen makes no mistake from the spot after a penalty against Kyle Walker
📺 Watch live now on Sky Sports pic.twitter.com/6FPB9BoBu1
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) October 14, 2020
The first booking was for an ugly, needless challenge in the Denmark half when he caught Yussuf Poulsen high on his ankle. The second followed another lunge as his heavy touch took the ball away and he tried to stop Kasper Dolberg on halfway. Only 31 minutes had been played. Although he looked stunned, Maguire knew the second yellow and the red was coming, and he was off. Even before that he had failed to control the ball, overstretched and held the top of his hamstring after another poor intervention. It was shocking stuff and especially after Southgate had given Maguire such an endorsement, hailing him as England’s best defender.
He looks nowhere near that.
As Southgate quickly tried to reorganise, bringing on Tyrone Mings, England conceded. Again it was a mess. This time it involved Walker, once more playing on the right of the three-man defence, and Jordan Pickford, who rushed from goal and distracted his team-mate as Walker tangled with Thomas Delaney. Pickford, under such scrutiny at his club Everton, looked unconvincing. Maybe Walker did slightly catch Delaney but the award of the penalty appeared harsh with Christian Eriksen, earning his 100th cap, converting confidently.
What a catastrophic few minutes for England, racked with errors and self-destruction, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles – on his full debut – sacrificed for Mings and Southgate remaining determined to keep his defensive back three as his team limped towards half-time in need of some reorganisation.
Before the drama there had been yet more disruption. England had lost Kieran Trippier as he has to attend a personal FA hearing over his betting charge and Eric Dier was withdrawn due to the far more mundane reason of a hamstring injury. But Southgate opted not to start with Grealish, Sancho or Trent Alexander-Arnold with the final choice, however, vindicated by James’s performance down the right flank until the red card.
Watch: Watch for the best gentle cool down routine
In the second half England, who had probably edged it before Maguire’s sending off, eventually began to threaten and when Declan Rice headed the ball back across goal from a corner it was met by Mason Mount. At close-range he appeared set to score – only for Schmeichel to superbly claw the ball away. Walker was then caught out as Daniel Wass headed over from eight yards when he should have scored for Denmark.
Southgate’s frustration grew, and he reacted angrily when Kalvin Phillips was pulled up for what appeared another late challenge on Poulsen, with the Spanish referee warning the England manager. Kane then headed the ball down and Conor Coady could not get his shot away from close to goal. There would be one last chance and it also fell to Coady, who beat Schmeichel with a header only for Simon Kjaer to block on the goal-line as England suffered just the third defeat on home soil in 50 competitive games. And with that came another piece of unwanted history.
It's very tough to take, a defeat is not the direction we wanted to head into tonight but look, if you look at our second half performance, the lads dug in, showed character, Schmeichel pulled off some worldy saves.Some of the decisions on the pitch tonight were tough to take. The red card, penalty, some of the tackles our lads were putting in were good tackles. I don't know (what happened with James) because I was inside. We're a great bunch of lads, we all love each other. Maguire's been fantastic, he's been amazing to me, it could have been anyone out there. He's a great player.
We need to be strong to watch him. My pals think he is completely over rated...
— Eric Idle (@EricIdle) October 14, 2020
3 – Harry Maguire is the third player to be sent off for the England men's team at Wembley after Paul Scholes vs Sweden in June 1999 and Steven Gerrard vs Ukraine in September 2012. Orders.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 14, 2020
What we need to do is the positions we take up, the wing-backs higher up the pitch, we get more runs in behind, better interchange of positions. We did some of those things on Sunday but we're against 4-3-3 tonight and will have to be a bit cleverer.
Liverpool and Manchester United have been forced to abandon Project Big Picture (PBP) in extraordinary fashion, although among the rebel clubs there is firm belief that they have forced major concessions from their fellow Premier League shareholders.
At Wednesday's meeting, Liverpool and United were told by the rest of the Premier League that they would never agree to the radical proposals to concentrate power in the hands of the biggest clubs. Yet the Premier League did consent to a wide-ranging “strategic review” that will investigate many of the key areas in which PBP called for change.
— Fodboldlandsholdene 🇩🇰 (@dbulandshold) October 14, 2020