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Euro 2020 qualifiers: 3 questions that could be answered in England's matches

  • England face Bulgaria and Kosovo in their upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers, and the games could answer these 3 burning questions.
Scott Newman
SENIOR ANALYST
Top 5 / Top 10
Modified 21 Dec 2019, 00:24 IST

#2 How will the midfield look?

Is Harry Winks the missing piece that England
Is Harry Winks the missing piece that England's midfield need?

In their 2018 World Cup defeat to Croatia the main criticism of England’s performance fell on their midfield; a gap emerged between the more defensive Jordan Henderson and the more attack-minded Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard, and this allowed Croatia’s more technically proficient midfielders like Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic to essentially run the game, swarming Henderson and neutralising Southgate’s side.

Southgate’s response to this was to switch formation for last autumn’s Nations League games, going from a 3-5-2 with wing-backs to a 4-3-3 system, but while this worked excellently in England’s wins over Spain and Croatia, the midfield shortcomings were again exposed in the summer’s Nations League semi-final against the Netherlands.

The three-man midfield that started the Netherlands game – Declan Rice, Fabian Delph and Ross Barkley – simply lacked dynamism going forward and more worryingly, both Rice and Delph seemed unable to collect the ball on the turn from England’s defenders, which inadvertently led to the mistakes that eventually cost the Three Lions the game.

Meanwhile, Netherlands midfielder Frenkie De Jong controlled the game with his range of passing just as Modric and Rakitic had done.

It’s clear that Southgate sees 4-3-3 as the way forward for England so in turn it becomes clear that the issues have stemmed from the personnel used rather than the system. That’s why the upcoming games against Bulgaria and Kosovo are so interesting, as Southgate has selected a trio of newer players who could make a genuine impact in the middle.

Youngsters James Maddison and Mason Mount – both of whom have started the season in excellent form for their respective clubs – are in to compete for the role of creative man, and it’s expected that both men will feature in some way.

As Ross Barkley has already shown what he can do in the role, to see Mount start one game and Maddison the other wouldn’t be a surprise – and if one or both perform well they could cement themselves as a starter in this system.

More interesting though is the inclusion of Tottenham’s Harry Winks. Winks isn’t the flashiest player but he brings something to the table that no other current England player – with the possible exception of Bournemouth’s Lewis Cook, who is currently injured – does in his abilities to collect the ball on the turn from the defence and consistently find passes while moving forward.

His metronomic style was on show last October in England’s win over Spain, and many observers felt that he could’ve made the difference against De Jong in June.

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To see a midfield comprised of a destroyer (Rice), a metronome (Winks) and a playmaker (Mount/Maddison) seems to make sense to me, but this would of course leave England stalwarts like Henderson and Lingard out in the cold. But perhaps, as cruel as it sounds, this is the only way forward if the Three Lions want to evolve and succeed.

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Published 07 Sep 2019, 01:01 IST
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