Backwards, sideways. Right, left, right and back again. The system Gareth Southgate deployed to give England another string to their bow initially seemed to tie them up in knots.
England’s trip to Copenhagen had long been circled by Southgate as the perfect place to experiment, to go back to a formation that served his team so well in the 2018 World Cup. Every second must count for the head coach in the coming months, all avenues need to be explored.
Nothing says experimentation also like the sight of two debutants and Southgate hoped that playing three central defenders would see Conor Coady, the captain of Wolves, and Kalvin Phillips of Leeds come to the fore.
Connor Coady (L) and Kalvin Phillips (R) made their England debuts against Denmark
Coady started in a defensive three whilst Phillips partnered Declan Rice in midfield
Coady gave a passable impersonation of a competition winner at St George’s Park last week, such was his delight and disbelief at being called into the squad in place of Manchester United’s Harry Maguire, but he did himself a disservice.
His consistency and progress over the last two seasons meant his first call – and first cap – were richly deserved and, more than anyone, settled into the rhythm of this Nations League qualifier quickly, pinging a couple of 60-yard passes into the path of Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold.
The way Coady swept those balls forward gave early hope that England would be direct and dynamic and it would bring the qualities of so many of their jet-heeled forwards, not to mention the similarly rapid Alexander-Arnold, into play. If Coady was nervous, it never showed.
You could hear him barking and organising, being true to the promise he made seven days ago.
Coady settled quickly into international football and was his usual vocal self throughout
‘I’m here to help,’ said Coady, winning international honours for the first time since leading the Under-20s at the 2013 World Cup in Turkey. ‘I’m just immensely proud. It was an incredible feeling to see my name on the board. I don’t care about my own performance as long as I did okay.’
He was better than okay. Coady knew there were questions for him to answer but he went about his business in that honest way and was excellent. In front of him, however, it was all very tentative and you could see early anxieties from Kalvin Phillips, his fellow debutant.
It took six minutes for Phillips, the first player from Leeds to gain a senior