Good thing about that international break is that the Premier League was starting to feel some kind of surreal performance art. But the excitement is by no means over, with England set to take on their old enemies Wales on Thursday in a friendly that will be anything but friendly.
Amid a packed schedule for club sides at the start of the new season, England will have a 30-man squad to choose from for what will be their first game back at Wembley since the covid-19 outbreak put sport on hold.
With Wales on a fine run of international form, England will have their hands full in a hotly-contested match, with both sides continuing to work out their best starting lineup in advance of the rescheduled Euro 2020 tournament.
Here’s 90min‘s preview of what should be a spicy match…
When Is Kick Off? Thursday 8 October
What Time Is Kick Off? 20:00 (BST)
Where Is it Being Played? Wembley Stadium
TV Channel/Live Stream? ITV (UK)
Referee? Robert Madden
England could potentially hand a debut to one or more of several players on Thursday, with Dean Henderson, Reece James, Bukayo Saka, Harvey Barnes and Everton hotshot Dominic Calvert-Lewin all part of Gareth Southgate’s enormous squad. Harry Maguire will return after his much-publicised legal troubles kept him out of the last round of international games.
In terms of absentees, Raheem Sterling has pulled out through injury, while Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood are being disciplined by Southgate after breaching covid guidelines during England’s Nations League game against Iceland.
In fact, covid regulations could well end up accounting for more England absences, with Southgate faced with a decision to make after Tammy Abraham, Ben Chilwell and Jadon Sancho were also seen to have flouted the government’s rule of six.
The big miss for Wales will be new Tottenham signing Gareth Bale, who is recovering from a knee injury and is not yet ready for action. The good news is that Aaron Ramsey is back after missing the last two Wales games through fitness problems of his own. Joe Allen, however, will not take part in the match, having ruptured his Achilles at the end of last season, while centre back Tom Lockyer has an ankle injury.
Wales have two prospective debutants of their own, meanwhile, and either of Luton’s Rhys Norrington-Davies or Lincoln City’s Brennan Johnson could find themselves entering the fray against the Three Lions.
England: Henderson; Alexander-Arnold, Maguire, Dier, Chilwell; Ward-Prowse, Phillips, Saka; Sancho, Calvert-Lewin, Barnes.
Wales: Hennessey; N. Williams, Mepham, Ampadu, Davies; Morrell, J. Williams; Brooks, Ramsey, James; Moore.
England have been far from perfect in one of the most difficult periods since Southgate took the reins, but there’s no need to overreact – their 0-0 draw against Denmark in September was the first time they’d failed to score since drawing with Switzerland in June 2019, and the second time they’ve failed to win in eight games.
Wales, meanwhile, have really started to pick things up under Ryan Giggs – they are unbeaten in eight games, and look in good shape for the upcoming Euros, which they qualified for with a relatively simple 2-0 defeat of Hungary. Top of their Nations League group with two wins in two games, they are undoubtedly the side more satisfied with their form going into Thursday night.
Here’s how the two sides have got on in their recent (and not-so-recent) matches…
Denmark 0-0 England (8/9/20)
Iceland 0-1 England (5/9/20)
Kosovo 0-4 England (17/11/19)
England 7-0 Montenegro (14/11/19)
Bulgaria 0-6 England (14/10/19)
Wales 1-0 Bulgaria (6/9/20)
Finland 0-1 Wales (3/9/20)
Wales 2-0 Hungary (19/11/19)
Azerbaijan 0-2 Wales (16/11/19)
Wales 1-1 Croatia (13/10/19)
England are in a bit of a slump at the moment – key players are misbehaving, Southgate can’t seem to crack his best possible XI, there are defensive frailties all over the shop, and his fearsome forward line have been misfiring for a while – not to mention they’ll be without Sterling.
The worst possible opposition you could come up against with all of these problems? A Wales side that will be spoiling for a scrap and who have frequently got the better of England in the past.
England’s experimental side will be hamstrung without the creativity of Foden and Sterling, and though they’ll have the bulk of the possession, their defensive glass jaw should be very vulnerable to the pace and trickery of the Wales front line.
A shocking smash-and-grab Wales victory might be on the cards.
Prediction: England 0-1 Wales