Jordan Henderson made a successful return from injury as he played just over an hour in England’s hard-fought 2-1 victory over Belgium at Wembley on Sunday evening.
The Three Lions looked to follow up their comprehensive 3-0 friendly win over Wales with another victory in the UEFA Nations League, but Sunday saw them pitted against the world’s top-ranked side.
Gareth Southgate shuffled out many of the players who impressed at Wembley on Thursday night, with the likes of Conor Coady, Jack Grealish and Danny Ings rested as the meritocracy crumbled.
Back were Jordan Pickford, Harry Maguire, Eric Dier, Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier and Mason Mount among others, along with a returning Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold – three natural right-backs on that list says it all.
It was a back three, with Walker and Dier joining Maguire at centre-back, and an untouchable Romelu Lukaku tore the defensive line to shreds throughout the first half.
Soon after Yannick Carrasco’s strike was ruled out due to an offside, Lukaku burst past Dier and was brought down by the hapless Tottenham utility man, stepping up to fire Belgium ahead from the spot.
An uninspired England were level before half-time, and it came via a penalty of their own, with Henderson falling down rather unconvincingly in the box to allow Marcus Rashford to equalise.
England improved after the break, taking a more physical approach with keeping Lukaku quiet and, at times, riding their luck as Belgium looked to work their way through the defence.
Mount benefited from a real stroke of luck just after the hour, picking up the ball in the box and attempting a right-footed strike at Simon Mignolet‘s far post, with the shot deflecting off Toby Alderweireld’s leg and looping into the back of the net.
With 66 minutes in his legs, Southgate made what was no doubt a planned substitution as Henderson came off on his return from injury and Leeds midfielder Kalvin Phillips took his place.
Alexander-Arnold was soon to follow, with Reece James replacing Liverpool’s No. 66 with 12 minutes left to play, with the England manager turning to his fourth right-back of the evening.
With Joe Gomez left out of the squad entirely and Henderson getting minutes under his belt, unless Alexander-Arnold was brought off due to a fitness issue an eventual 2-1 win for England will be music to the ears of Jurgen Klopp.
Next up for the Three Lions is a clash with Denmark on Wednesday night, and though the threat of COVID-19 is ever-looming, it is encouraging that Liverpool’s England trio are not being overused ahead of the Merseyside derby.