The result may have been meaningless as Arsenal again crashed out of the Champions League in the last 16, but the performance was anything but. The Ox was hugely impressive...
Manuel Pellegrini's side must seek an early goal that will cause panic amongst home supporters (and then hopefully players) in the Camp Nou. It may be a thankless task...
Whatever happens against Poland on Tuesday and regardless of Friday's success against Montenegro, it is clear that we will have a sustained discussion about the effect of the Englishness or otherwise of the Premier League on the health of the national side. Greg Dyke's commission may face more obstacles than the squirrel in that old Carling Black Label advert but neither it (the commission, not the squirrel), nor its members such as Glenn Hoddle, are going to vanish, despite the all-too obvious point made when Dyke initially spoke on the subject: that even when 75% or more of the old Division One was English, the national team still struggled.
Yet amid the understandable scepticism over the legality of any proposals that restrict labour (especially of people from countries within the European Union and related bodies) or whether they would work to England's benefit, we should at least acknowledge that there certainly could be a problem for the national team with the number of qualified players in the Premier League at some point.
In economics, the Laffer curve plots the relationship between taxation rates and government revenue, showing that if tax rates are too high then cutting them will actually increase fiscal revenue. It seems that English football could do with a Dyke curve.
When you think about it, the existence of the Laffer curve is fairly obvious. If you tax all people at 99% for all their income, what incentive is there to do too much of anything? There's not a great deal at 98% either. At the other extreme, if you tax people at 1%, then doubling that to 2% is definitely going to bring in more money because people will not halve their productivity over such a small amount. You can put it up a deal more, too.
The problem lies with where exactly you draw the curve and the political use to which it is put. In American politics, right-wingers always believe that we are the side of Laffer's curve where a tax cut will 'pay for itself', saying it will stimulate economic activity such that the government gains rather than loses. This position is maintained despite the experience of the past decade, in which George W Bush's tax cuts a) were forced through using a statistical and congressional slight of hand that meant forecasts they would increase the deficit were ignored; and b) did indeed increase the deficit substantially, leaving America less able to deal with the financial crisis when it came. Indeed, US talk show hosts and their gullible listeners still insists that tax cuts always pay for themselves.
What does this have to do with football? Well, it's a way of looking at the debate over the number of English (or England-qualified) footballers in the Premier League using something more than anecdotes. You can see the appeal of the argument in the Mailbox that an English midfielder is better off learning from playing with or against Mesut Ozil rather than Lee Cattermole. At the same time, if ever we reached a stage where homegrown players' share of playing time in the Premier League was 3%, rather than 33%, then not a whole of direct learning would be going on by anyone English.
Were such a situation ever to occur then plainly we would be the side of the Dyke curve where mandating that, say, 20% of players on the pitch at any time be English would improve standards among our youngsters previously banished to the Championship and now exposed to their betters. The question has to be, not: 'Does the Dyke curve exist?' but: 'Where do you draw it?'
It should be noted, too, that the argument is not about players of the standard of Ozil, an established international star. To slip into anecdote for a moment, it is more about whether Arsenal would have been better off spending the fee and wages for Park Chu-young on developing local talent instead. Not that Arsenal should be singled out; this isn't about individuals but rather overall effect.
The FA have responsibilities beyond the England team, more generally for the state of homegrown and grassroots football. It should certainly be said that they have failed in part of this, with coaching in the home of the game falling well behind that of many other countries, in terms of quality and quantity. One of the reasons clubs buy abroad at any level is because the players concerned are better than the local alternatives and perhaps less prone overall to destructive tendencies.
However, clubs also look to buy the finished foriegn roduct for reasons of expediency, and plainly there are conflicting interests between managers needing a quick fix, or owners from Missouri to Malaysia, and administrators whose responsibilities include the grassroots game. Whatever the part that can be ascribed to FA complacency or bungling, there are a range of reasons for the quality and temperament of English players that include significant cultural peculiarities way beyond the powers to combat of a sports governing body. And any equivalent organisation in any sport, faced with a 33% share, would look to improve it.
There is no panacea for the England team, nor was there a golden age in which the national side dominated even when 'international football' meant solely matches played between the different parts of these islands. The FA should not be criticised, though, for attempting to analyse a situation that undoubtedly falls within their remit. We may still be the side of the Dyke curve where bringing in more foreign players of the right quality would actually improve their English counterparts as well as the spectacle of the Premier League - but let's not pretend there is no serious conversation to be had. We should prepare to critique the ideas that emerge rather than dismiss the whole exercise at the outset.