England’s concerning San Marino comparison highlights work needed ahead of Qatar World Cup

Only San Marino scored fewer than England during this round of Nations League fixtures. It’s not difficult to work out how many the tiny microstate mustered.

The Three Lions, with all our supposed attacking riches, managed Harry Kane’s solitary late penalty against the Germans – on a par with Gibraltar and Liechtenstein – and fewer than Luxembourg and the Faroe Islands.

And we’re contenders for the World Cup? Pah. Given this, with just five months to go before the plane departs, you might think boss Gareth Southgate is wrestling with a variety of issues up front.

For instance, how he can look back on those matches and feel Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka is a better bet than Manchester City’s Jack Grealish? In my book, not even a discussion.

But – past performances suggest that as long as the skipper and Raheem Sterling stay fit – England will find the net. However, if we are going to prosper in Qatar it’s not the goals for that we need to worry about.

It’s the goals against. History tells us that the sides that concede fewest will prosper – and Southgate’s got a monstrous problem at the heart of his defence. He needs a solution.






Gareth Southgate has presided over a poor fortnight


Gareth Southgate has presided over a poor fortnight
(
Getty Images)

It was the same at the European Championships last year. Eventually, he came up with the idea that Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips could be used as a shield in front of a back four.

Why would you do that?

Well, he doesn’t trust any of his centre-halves not to make the one mistake that separates the teams that are going to go deep in that competition in the Middle East from the ones who will be home to enjoy an early Yuletide. At present, he would play a flat back four – probably with John Stones and Harry Maguire as the two at the heart of his rearguard.

But Stones isn’t first-choice for Manchester City – admittedly that bar is a high one – if Pep Guardiola has a full complement to call upon. And Maguire is one million miles away from the tyro who broke through the lines at Manchester United – he just looks lost.

Now that group did England proud at the European Championships. Not conceding until we played Denmark in the semi-finals. In fact, the Three Lions came away with the best defensive record in the tournament.

Hard to believe after last Tuesday’s collapse against Hungary which proved Fikayo Tomori has plenty to learn at an elite level. Right now, it’s difficult to see how Southgate returns from the Middle East boasting the same record for stinginess.






Harry Kane is being constantly relied upon to find the net


Harry Kane is being constantly relied upon to find the net
(
Getty Images)

What does he do? Well, he could move to three centre-backs, using Kyle Walker – as Aston Villa boss Steven Gerrard noted before the season’s end – the Manchester City man is wildly under-rated.

That would free him up to select the people’s choice – Trent Alexander-Arnold – on the right and not worry so much about his defensive qualities.

Not that Southgate bows to popular demand – if he did, he wouldn’t have thrown on Maguire for the final few minutes when England were three-down at Molinuex against Hungary.






Jack Grealish is still looking to establish himself at international level


Jack Grealish is still looking to establish himself at international level
(
AFP via Getty Images)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.