The international break is over and England ended it with a 1-0 defeat to Denmark at Wembley on Wednesday night.
Gareth Southgate named an experimental line-up for the game as they looked to carry on the momentum of beating Belgium on Sunday night in the UEFA Nations League. But after an early red card for Harry Maguire following two yellow cards in the opening 31 minutes, Denmark were awarded a penalty which Christian Eriksen converted on his 100th cap.
England failed to create any real clear cut chances following that and in the end fell to a defeat, with defender Reece James being sent off after the final whistle for abusing the referee. The defeat drew up more questions about Southgate’s decisions and comments, with Harry Maguire earning plenty of defence in the mainstream media for some odd reason.
What the performance showed though was that despite the great quality in the squad individually, tactically they’re a bit of a shambles.
Southgate’s insistence on setting up to not lose rather than to win games is going to cost him in the long run, especially in tournament football. Playing a three centre-back system with two holding midfielders when the weakest areas of the squad are quite comfortably centre-back and central midfield is weird enough. But the insistence on not playing your in-form attackers in their favoured and strongest positions is strange too.
The selection of Mason Mount in isolation isn’t necessarily a bad one. The 21 year old has played regularly for Chelsea over the last 18 months and has broken into the senior national team as a result of that, however his inclusion in the games against both Belgium and Denmark over Jack Grealish is bemusing.
Grealish is one of the most in-form attacking midfielders in the Premier League right now and when he was given the opportunity to start for England against Wales, he took it with both hands and performed to a high level. Yet he was then dropped from the team and given minimal minutes against Belgium before not being brought on at all against Denmark.
The need to play two holding midfielders is odd too when the likes of Mason Mount are far more comfortable in a central position than out wide. Yet Southgate is insistent that having just three attacking players on the pitch is sufficient to win games at the highest level.
It’s clear that Southgate is going to be the manager going into Euro 2021 at the very least, but he needs to find a system that balances getting the best out of his limited defenders and his top drawer attackers.
The facade that England are a really good side already is slipping away. They have the potential to get there but they have plenty of flaws to iron out.