The Three Lions continue their preparation for the delayed European Championships over the next two weeks, but there are mixed feelings as to just how good the team is at the moment. Liam Rowsell assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the current England team ahead of the November international break.
England embarked on a fantastic Euro qualifying campaign in which they won all but one of their 10 games, albeit in a relatively easy group. The Nations League has thrown up more problems though, and the nation comes into this break third in their group and with ground to make up if they’re to qualify to the next round. There have been plenty of positive signs for Gareth Southgate as of late, but there is also a strong feeling that this team isn’t quite the finished article.
How are England performing at the moment?
After four games in the UEFA Nations League, England sit third in a very competitive League A group with Belgium, Denmark and Iceland. Its Denmark who have caused all the problems for the Three Lions until now, holding them to a 0-0 draw before winning at Wembley last month. Those results have put England level on points with the Danes but behind them on goal difference and two points behind Belgium on top. The other two games have both ended in victory, and England will look to perform well against the top-rated nation again during this international break.
England also beat Wales 3-0 in a friendly just before last month’s Nations League games and will play the Republic of Ireland at Wembley to kick off this international break. This month will indicate just where this team is at with their knockout round qualification up for grabs, and unlike in previous international matches, there is plenty to play for over the next two weeks.
Where are England’s strongest positions?
At the moment there are very few guaranteed starters in Gareth Southgate’s team, which means competition for places is huge. Harry Kane is one of these with his world-class finishing ability and with him in the side, England will always have a chance. This season, he’s also shown how well he can be in the build-up to goals with 10 assists in all competitions already this season. If he can build partnerships within the England team like he has done with Heung-Min Son at Tottenham, the country will have be a very strong attacking force.
There are other good forward options too should anything happen to Kane as Danny Ings and Dominic Calvert-Lewin have scored 16 goals between them this season and both scored in the previous international break in Kane’s absence. Elsewhere in attack, England are blessed with quality with wide-players such as Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Raheem Sterling all capable of making things happen. The likes of Mason Mount, Jack Grealish and Kalvin Phillips, who can all fill the number ten role, are all fighting for their place in the team and again there are heaps of quality amongst them.
Deeper in midfield, Declan Rice has been a regular starter for England after consistently impressive performances for West Ham. He shows maturity above his age with and without the ball, and whilst his work often goes unnoticed; the stats show just how well he’s performed. He shone in the Belgium game with a 95.4% pass success rate (Source: WhoScored.com) and if he can continue playing at this level, there’s a good chance he’ll be a starter in Southgate’s Euro team. Who he plays with is an entirely different question, though as the likes of Jordan Henderson, Eric Dier and Kalvin Phillips have all played well in midfield.
Where do England look weaker?
Defensively, questions have been asked of England recently as they don’t look as solid as they looked in the 2018 World Cup. Gareth Southgate’s proffered system with a back three appears to be the way forward, but it’s a matter of finding the best players to fit the formation. There is plenty of quality in the wing back positions with the Alexander-Arnold and Reece James competing on the left and Kieran Trippier and Ben Chilwell challenging at right wing back but its central defence, which seems to be the issue.
Harry Maguire has had a year to forget after the incident in Mykonos during the summer and some very poor performances in a Manchester United shirt this season. He looks very unsettled, and that was reflected in his latest appearance for England with his sending off against Denmark which would have been a factor in their defeat. Eric Dier and John Stones have played alongside him in the past, but in the previous international break, it was Conor Coady who impressed the most. He scored his first international goal and will be in Southgate’s consideration for upcoming games.
Jordan Pickford seems to be the first choice goalkeeper for the time being, although there are potent appeals for Nick Pope or Dean Henderson to take his place. Pickford has made plenty of mistakes as of late and has been dropped by Carlo Ancelotti at Everton, but when playing for England, he often looks like a different player.
How does the future look for England?
With so many young players within the England squad, the future looks incredibly bright for the three lions. There is also plenty of quality within the U21 and U18 squads with the likes of Eddie Nketiah and Callum Hudson-Odoi knocking on the door of the senior squad, so there are plenty of options for Gareth Southgate. For now, though, whether the Three Lions can challenge for an international trophy remains to be seen with some other very good nations in contention. The likes of Belgium, France and Portugal look very strong at the moment, but England has the quality to compete with the very best at the top level.
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