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England 2-1 Poland: 5 talking points from a strong win for the Three Lions | World Cup 2022 qualifiers

England picked up a solid win over Poland in a 2022 World Cup qualifier tonight.
England picked up a solid win over Poland in a 2022 World Cup qualifier tonight.
Scott Newman

In an entertaining World Cup 2022 qualifier at Wembley tonight, England defeated Poland 2-1.

The result puts England in pole position to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar, while Poland now sit in fourth place in Group I and are in danger of missing out.

England dominated the first half and opened the scoring midway through from a Harry Kane penalty after Raheem Sterling was brought down.

At that stage, it looked like it’d be an easy win for Gareth Southgate’s side.

However, their intensity dropped in the second half. And with Poland putting more pressure on, an awful mistake from John Stones allowed Jakub Moder to fire an equalizer past Nick Pope.

From there, it looked like the game would peter out into a draw. But a late corner saw Stones nod the ball down to Harry Maguire, who fired home with a beautiful finish to seal the match for England.

Here are five talking points from England’s 2-1 win over Poland.


#1 England’s first-half should ensure Southgate sticks to 4-3-3 going forward

England - and Mason Mount in particular - were excellent in the first half of tonight's game.
England - and Mason Mount in particular - were excellent in the first half of tonight's game.

The big question mark coming into tonight’s game was whether England boss Gareth Southgate would return to the 3-4-3 formation he’d used with his side in last autumn’s UEFA Nations League matches.

The overall feeling was that the formation stifled England’s creativity but that Southgate’s pragmatic style would see him lean towards it against a dangerous side like Poland.

However, the England boss stuck to 4-3-3, and in the first half at least, it paid off marvelously.

England were absolutely fantastic for the first 45 minutes, pressing and harrying Poland constantly and never giving them any room to breathe.

Mason Mount and Phil Foden constantly found pockets of space to play quick balls into, while Raheem Sterling tormented the Polish defense with his dribbling. Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips both looked excellent in breaking up plays.

Harry Kane’s penalty was the least that England deserved for their work. And while the intensity dropped in the second half, the overall performance should hopefully mean England stick with 4-3-3 going forward into this summer’s European Championships.


#2 Poland looked largely toothless without Lewandowski

Poland clearly missed injured striker Robert Lewandowski tonight.
Poland clearly missed injured striker Robert Lewandowski tonight.

England fans were buoyed earlier this week when it was announced that Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski would miss this game after suffering a knee injury.

After all, no defense in the world would want to face a striker who’s scored 42 goals in 36 games as Lewandowski has this season.

And sure enough, the Bayern forward’s absence was clearly an issue for Poland’s chances in this game.

Poland simply couldn’t create any opportunities on goal, particularly during the first half. And when their attackers did find some dangerous positions, there was nobody there to finish them off.

In the end, they had just one shot on target throughout the game, and that was Jakub Moder’s goal that was gift-wrapped to him by John Stones.

Poland are clearly not a one-man team, and they did push England hard tonight, particularly after Arkadiusz Milik was introduced in the second half. But they definitely missed their star striker greatly.

#3 Stones shows why he still can’t be fully trusted

A horrendous error from John Stones led to Poland's goal tonight.
A horrendous error from John Stones led to Poland's goal tonight.

John Stones’ renaissance at Manchester City has been one of the biggest stories of the 2020-21 season. And it was no surprise when he was recalled into the England squad for this series of World Cup qualifiers.

However, tonight England fans were treated to the best and worst of the central defender.

Stones looked largely solid throughout the game, finished with a fantastic 92% pass success rate, and his header set up Harry Maguire’s winning goal.

On the other hand, though, he basically handed Poland’s goal to them on a silver platter thanks to a massive mistake in the second half.

Passes to Nick Pope and Kyle Walker were both wide open, but Stones decided to dally on the ball, lost it cheaply, and seconds later, Jakub Moder had scored.

It was an incident eerily reminiscent of Stones’ costly error in the 2019 Nations League semi-final with the Netherlands. And it should serve as a reminder that he still can’t be fully trusted to keep England’s defense watertight at this summer’s European Championships.

Still, he’s probably a better bet than the likes of Eric Dier and Tyrone Mings, and so using him may be a risk that Gareth Southgate has to take.


#4 Do England need two holding midfielders?

Kalvin Phillips enjoyed a strong game tonight, but do England really need two holding midfielders?
Kalvin Phillips enjoyed a strong game tonight, but do England really need two holding midfielders?

Despite moving back to a 4-3-3 formation for these three World Cup qualifiers, England’s system still had a very defensive feel to it, thanks to the use of two holding midfielders in the center of the pitch.

In tonight’s game, Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips were left to shore up England’s center, while Mason Mount acted as a creative force.

And while all three men had good games - particularly in the first half - when England needed some spark in the second stanza, they found it hard going.

So with this in mind, could there be a case for starting with just one holder and dropping Phil Foden back into a more central role alongside Mount – freeing up a wide forward spot for Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho, or Marcus Rashford?

A less pragmatic boss than Gareth Southgate would almost certainly do this. However, the feeling still lingers that England’s somewhat questionable defense requires some extra protection.

Tonight though – particularly after Poland equalized – the match clearly needed an injection of creativity that neither Phillips nor Rice could ever hope to produce.

Simply put, teams should play to their strengths, and right now, England’s is in their attack. It’s time Southgate embraced that and threw caution to the wind for once.


#5 Why does Southgate still persist with Kyle Walker?

Kyle Walker didn't have his best game at right-back for England.
Kyle Walker didn't have his best game at right-back for England.

It’d be unfair to suggest that Kyle Walker’s entire England career has been a bust. After all, he was probably the Three Lions’ best player in the ill-fated Euro 2016 tournament, and he also performed well at the 2018 World Cup.

However, at the age of 30, is he still the best man for the right-back slot in this England team?

Judging by his performance tonight, the answer is no.

Walker didn’t add anything to England’s attack, with his crosses being wayward. And while he ended the match with an 89% pass success rate, at times, it felt like all he did was play his teammates into danger.

With Reece James and Kieran Trippier both in the current squad and others such as Trent Alexander-Arnold, Matty Cash, and Aaron Wan-Bissaka all pushing for the right-back spot, quite how much longer Southgate can keep faith with Walker is anyone’s guess.

Right now, he looks like the weakest link in England’s side. And while Poland were unable to take advantage of that tonight, better sides may be able to in the summer.

Edited by Zaid Khan

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