On UEFA’s orders Molineux was largely empty but some exceptions were made. Up in the stand, just along from the official parties, sat David Platt.
There to observe the work of his friends Roberto Mancini – with whom he won a Premier League title at Manchester City 10 years ago – and Gianluca Vialli – with whom he played at Juventus in 1992-93 – it was nevertheless hard not to think of the impact Platt once had on an England team.
Platt played in the England midfield 62 times between 1989 and 1996 and scored 27 goals.
England have looked like a team treading water during their three Nations League clashes
But it was at the World Cup of 1990 that the former Aston Villa and Arsenal player really made his mark. His performances in that tournament in Italy – including a spectacular winning goal against Belgium in the last 16 – launched his career and changed his life.
Gareth Southgate could do with such an arrival from somebody this winter in Qatar. The England manager could do with a player to come from the pack to make his mark in this year’s World Cup.
Platt was a substitute at the start of Italia 90 and that strike against Belgium was his first for his country.
Gareth Southgate is in need of inspiration ahead of the World Cup, with his side predictable
With three games left between now and England’s opener against Iran on November 21, Southgate’s England look and feel a little predictable. Do we have a wildcard player ready to force his way into Southgate’s line-up as Platt once did? Right now, it is very difficult to see one.
In games against Hungary, Germany and Italy this month (two points, one goal) Southgate has given some pitch time to his supporting cast.
But if his opening World Cup line-up is to be vastly different from the team that finished last summer’s European Championship with that shootout defeat to the Italians, it is hard to see how.
That is OK if we can honestly say that team are improving and evolving. But it is also hard to make a case for that being true at the moment.
Raheem Sterling looks like a player unsure of his club future, which is exactly what he is
England, not helped by a Covid-impacted domestic season and an international addendum that understandably feels a little like a chore, have looked like a team treading water over the last three games.
It is now Southgate’s job to add a little momentum against Hungary and in the games against Italy and Germany in September.
‘Because of the timing of the World Cup it was always going to be a strange lead-in,’ said Southgate after this rather tepid stalemate against Mancini’s team.
‘We have one more camp in mid-September and then into it. But that’s why in the last few games we’ve needed to see certain players because there’s no opportunity further down the line to be able to assess them. I have to say the boys that came in did very well.’
It is hard to name a star knocking hard enough on Southgate’s door to disrupt the current order
In terms of time on the field, we have seen some of Jarrod Bowen and James Ward-Prowse in these fixtures and much more of Jack Grealish.
At Molineux on Saturday, Arsenal’s goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale and AC Milan defender Fikayo Tomori played while Roma’s Tammy Abraham stood in for Harry Kane in England’s 4-2-3-1.
Of these, Grealish’s impact as a substitute in Germany was perhaps most memorable while Ramsdale may now have sneaked ahead of Burnley’s Nick Pope as No 2 to Jordan Pickford – largely on the back of his ability to initiate play with his feet.
But is there a player knocking hard enough on Southgate’s door to genuinely disrupt the order of things over the next five months? It is hard to say so.
Jack Grealish was bright during his appearances, and he made an impact against Germany
All of which means that England are likely to head to Qatar relying on the same fundamentals as they did last summer – some defensive security and Kane’s goals.
There is a one-dimensional feel about England in 2022. After last summer’s tournament – as well as England ended up doing – we could have reasonably expected a little more from some of the players by now.
But poor club form has taken Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho from Southgate’s squad, while Grealish has not done enough to edge Mason Mount from the side. On top of this, Raheem Sterling looks like a player unsure of his club future, which is exactly what he is.
England are not in particularly bad shape. Draws against Germany and Italy are not the failures that some appear to think.
The Three Lions aren’t in bad shape, but they have not scored from open play so far this month
Equally, they lack a spark and the fact they have failed to score from open play in these three games – Kane’s goal in Germany was a penalty – should be the one thing that genuinely concerns Southgate moving forwards.
The England manager, who himself appeared a little weary by his own standards on Saturday, could probably pick nine of his starting XI for the Iran game now.
The two full-back positions remain up for debate while Jude Bellingham may yet give Kalvin Phillips a challenge for the central midfield role alongside Declan Rice. That aside, it is difficult to see much movement.
So from here to the starting gun in Doha in November, Southgate must hope that the simple things go his way. Kane must stay fit as he currently has no understudy. Harry Maguire, meanwhile, has to show better club form – something he didn’t do last season.
Time is running out for Southgate and his men, and he appeared weary by his own standards
Platt, meanwhile, looked like he was there for the love on Saturday – Mancini and his coaches blew kisses his way at one point.
He is 56 now, having been born in the June of another big World Cup summer, but was some player back in the day.
Platt took Italy by surprise in 1990 and even Sir Bobby Robson, his England manager at the time, didn’t see it coming.
This England look a little short of similar mystery and games, and time is starting to run out.