Wednesday, June 29, 2022

England goes back to drawing board as midfield issues remain

For all the improvements England made under Gareth Southgate – and reaching the World Cup semi-finals and European Championship finals shows that there are many – a major problem is holding the team back.

Finding the right balance in England’s midfield is an issue that predates Southgate. Who can forget the long-running debate over whether Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard could play together in the early 2000s, for example?

Fast forward a few years and the current England team lacks the world-class quality centre-midfield options of Gerrard, Lampard and Paul Scholes. Instead, Southgate has some solid, hard-working players sprinkled with some potential future stars still learning their trade in many different positions.

Finding the right mix is ​​proving problematic.

With England’s conservative midfield in the 2018 World Cup semi-final by Croatia and Italy in the Euro 2020 final, bringing in a few more ball-players in midfield three has given the team a better chance to maintain possession. top opposition.

So when Southgate selected a central midfield consisting of 22-year-old Mason Mount, two attacker No. 8 and Declan Rice as anchorman behind 21-year-old Phil Foden for Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier against Hungary, there was a sense of anticipation .

Was it the start of an exciting new era for England with the World Cup in Qatar next year?

No. Actually, it was a reality check.

England produced one of their most isolated and sterile performances in a 1–1 draw at Wembley Stadium under Southgate, punctuating some of the optimism that had built up around the team.

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Mount and Foden, who often play in the front three for Chelsea and Manchester City respectively, were positionally disciplined, leaving Rice unsupported and sometimes going ahead. A team better than 40th-ranked Hungary would have created more of their opportunities at the break.

“We weren’t in contact with them (Hungary) under our pressure, which gave them some rest in the game,” Southgate said of his midfield experiment. “We gave unnecessary passes, which led to counterattacks that make you feel the stretch.”

Man City manager Pep Guardiola is not ready to play Foden – widely regarded as English football’s big hope – as a central midfielder, saying he needs to develop as a player And to play at different tempos you need to have more control in your game. This was highlighted against Hungary, where some clean touches and through-balls failed to disguise his tactical and positional naivete.

The same was true for Mount, who plays mostly as number 10 for Chelsea ahead of two experienced holding midfielders such as N’Golo Kante and Jorginho.

The fact that Southgate has resisted playing this aggressive central-midfield set-up at this point – and admitted it doesn’t work against Hungary – will likely go back to the drawing board. This should mean an immediate return to the squad for Calvin Phillips, the deep-lying Leeds midfielder who was missing due to injury and was described by Southgate as “an essential part of our midfield” after the game. Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson is another option, even though he hasn’t made his debut in England’s first-choice squad for a while.

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The Rice-Phillips axis gives England more strength and that is one reason why the defense has been so impressive in recent years. But does this combination give England enough quality to compete with the biggest teams like Italy, whose midfield dominates the Euro 2020 final, or Spain or France? They are the kind of country England wants to reach.

Jude Bellingham may still fit the bill as the kind of all-around midfielder England need but the Borussia Dortmund player is only 18 and was not called into this international window to manage his workload . Its still a work in progress.

England do not have the quality of a midfielder to compare with players such as Jorginho and Marco Verratti (Italy), Kante and Paul Pogba (France), and Pedri and Sergio Busquets (Spain).

So Southgate will have to find the right balance to compensate for the low level of individual talent. This is his biggest job before the World Cup.


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