A qualifier against the world’s worst international team at an empty stadium was never likely to produce many learnings but it will at least have provided Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel with some food for thought around how to use a Ben Chillwell and Reece James full-back double act going forward.
The pair have started just two games together since Tuchel became head coach at Stamford Bridge in mid-January. That is partially down to the German’s rotation policy, the reintroduction of Marcos Alonso on the left and the decision to use Callum Hudson-Odoi at right wing back.
But against the meekest of opposition Chilwell and James dovetailed well in the opening 45 minutes at Wembley this evening, providing the platform for many of England’s best moves in a predictable rout.
Chilwell was at the heart of the drive that led to James Ward-Prowse opening the scoring, starting it off with a pass inside to Raheem Sterling before receiving the ball from Mason Mount on the overlap. He then controlled the ball with ease before finding the Southampton midfielder with a low cut back.
James followed up by providing the sort of deep, pinpoint cross that Chelsea fans have become accustomed to seeing for Dominic Calvert-Lewin to make it 2-0 after 22 minutes.
Chilwell was denied a goal of his own two minutes later with a long-range shot that was kept out of the top left corner by a good save from Elia Benedettini but it was clear in this unsightly game of attack versus defence that the full backs were providing the best outlet.
Although James was one of four changes at the interval, the damage had long been done and the exhibition continued with Chilwell also playing a role in the fourth goal early in the second period.
Yet the opening half offered enough intrigue for Chelsea fans and it was hard to escape the feeling that talk of the pair being the long-term future at Stamford Bridge should be changed to the present.
For Chilwell it has not been an ideal first campaign as a Chelsea player. Having arrived to much fanfare, the signing Frank Lampard wanted most of the seven summer acquisitions, his initial form was very good. But he missed England’s games in October because of a coronavirus breach also involving Tammy Abraham and Jadon Sancho, and has found himself in and out of Tuchel’s starting XI.
While Southgate commonly stresses the need for his players to be getting minutes at their clubs, Chilwell is unquestionably the first choice left back for England despite the recent emergence of Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka.
The teenager, absent here because of a hamstring issue, played at wing back when Chilwell was absent in the autumn but he was listed among the forwards when the squad for this camp was announced last week.
For James the opposite is true. In a one-off tie he looks more certain than Chilwell to be given a starting role by Tuchel but the 21-year-old can be less certain of his role for England due to the depth at right back.
Few international teams have such an embarrassment of riches – France at centre back, perhaps – and Southgate has long been aware that a very talented player or two will be allowed to go on an unhappy summer holiday while his countrymen seek to win this summer’s Euros on home soil.
Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, a tad harshly, was omitted from this squad having been viewed as one of the world’s best in the not too distant past. He will be back in contention come June, while Southgate last week praised Kieran Trippier for his “great” form at Atletico Madrid. Kyle Walker should be included as he can also play centre half.
It means James must finish the season strongly for Chelsea to ensure he is the starting right back come mid-June, while Chilwell will be hoping this performance can be replicated on club duty as he seeks to become undisputed first choice over Alonso.