EVEN when Gareth Southgate bowed to popular demand and Jack Grealish started, England failed to impress us.
The England boss is locked in a constant clash with public opinion over the merits of Manchester City’s £100m crowd.
But while Grealish makes England more enjoyable to watch, does he make them more effective? Not on this evidence.
The most memorable contributions from England’s most expensive player of all time were a nasty lunge that earned him a booking and a spectacular collision with team-mate Tammy Abraham at the edge of his own box.
Grealish is always the best in the parade ring, but here he kept running into brick walls and losing possession against a stereotypically robust Italian mark.
These Nations League fixtures are becoming hard to watch – and it’s no fault of Southgate’s that four of them have been called in at the end of what has been a grueling club season.
The England manager addressed allegations of reticence and conservatism in his pre-match press conference on Friday – and you could almost guess it would end 0-0 afterwards.
This wasn’t the worst goalless draw you’ll ever see – the first half was eventful and a couple of excellent saves from Aaron Ramsdale, replacing Jordan Pickford, kept England level after Mason Mount smashed an early try against the bar.
There were a few positives – Declan Rice was excellent in midfield and AC Milan’s Fikayo Tomori bounced from a shaky start on his full England debut to play diligently.
But we don’t learn much from these games, other than that we could all use a break from football – not least the footballers.
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This was a repeat of last summer’s EURO final but the atmosphere could hardly have been any different as the FA were penalized for the mess at Wembley last June.
With a few thousand schoolchildren admitted despite the UEFA penalty, Molineux sounded like a soft play area at half-time – a shrill attack on the eardrum.
Some of them booed the Italian national anthem – “inherited thinking,” as Southgate said of the Hungarian children who booed England last weekend in Budapest when they took their knee.
Hungary arrive in Molineux on Tuesday for the last game of a long old season.
Enthusiasm for a fourth meeting with Hungary in less than a year is unlikely to be in full swing – although that match has sold out, showing a certain odd dedication.
Southgate had made six changes from Tuesday’s draw in Germany – including Serie A’s Abraham and Tomori and the nation’s favourite, Grealish.
It was a lively start and Italy should have been ahead within two minutes.
Matteo Pessina’s through ball found Tomori wrong-footed, but Davide Frattesi deflected his shot wide.
England started with high pressing that soon startled Gianluigi Donnarumma, whose poor pass was used by Abraham who passed Manuel Locatelli but shot wide.
Southgate’s men moved the ball with more pace and purpose than in Munich, and Mount traded passes with skipper Raheem Sterling before slamming a shot off the bar.
Rice shot over from a James Ward-Prowse corner, but Italy had the best chance of the first half.
Locatelli’s delicious crossfield pass picked out Giovani Di Lorenzo, whose cushion volleyball center found Sandro Tonali – but what looked like a sure goal was thwarted when Ramsdale stretched his left leg to save.
Grealish was energetic but frustrating. He should have done better with a blocked shot from Reece James and then he was booked for a reckless lunge at Federico Gatti.
Gianluca Scamacca, Arsenal’s wanted centre-forward, then fired in from close range in an effort that made both Mikel Arteta and Roberto Mancini wince.
The half ended in chaos for England. First, Ramsdale went over the bar on a deflected shot from Pessina.
Then Grealish and Abraham collided on the edge of the English box, but Tomori spared her embarrassment by blocking another attempt from Pessina.
Sterling missed a glaring chance just after the break, connecting with a dangerous James cross but spooning wide from four yards.
Abraham, who had scored 27 goals for Roma this season, had struggled and in the 65th minute Southgate sent Kane in his place and also introduced Kalvin Phillips and Jarrod Bowen.
Kane went over the bar with 12 minutes to go and Southgate challenged Bukayo Saka instead of Sterling.
But there was to be no breakthrough for Southgate’s side – Grealish seemed increasingly peripheral.
At least the volume of criticism of the England boss because of his alleged disregard for the golden boy should then decrease somewhat.
However, the school kids greeted the final whistle with shrill boos and the PA blared: “I Just Can’t Get Enough”
Who were they kidding?
https://www.the-sun.com/sport/5542417/england-italy-match-report-nations-league/ England 0 Italy: Gareth Southgate’s side are booed by children with free tickets in a grim Nations League clash