England manager, Gareth Southgate has a lot on his plate after his men were sent packing from the UEFA Nations League against Belgium on Sunday evening.
England has now suffered back-to-back defeats after they lost 2-0 to Belgium. Moreover, the defeat that allowed the 1-0 loss at home to Denmark last month brought up plenty of issues Southgate needs to address to stop the mini-rut.
The England manager is gearing up for a dead-rubber against Iceland at Wembley ahead of the next summer’s Euros. However, below are places that carry the biggest problems.
Selection headache at the back continues
Yet again England looked alarming in the heart of defense against Belgium as Eric Dier slotted in centrally alongside Tyrone Mings and Kyle Walker in a back three.
The Tottenham star was at fault for Belgium’s opener in Leuven after his poor pass out from the back was intercepted before Tielemans capitalized on the mistake.
It must be said that England was without Harry Maguire, Joe Gomez, and Conor Coady against the Red Devils, but there have been worrying signs at the back for some time now.
It was in defense which cost England a significant defeat against Denmark at Wembley last time out in the Nations League, with Maguire picking up an early red card following two clumsy challenges And moments after the needless red card, a mix-up at the back led to Denmark’s penalty before Christian Eriksen ruthlessly punished England from the spot.
With Gomez out in the long-term after sustaining a serious knee injury during a routine training session with England, there really is a lack of formidable center-back options at present. The fact Dier continues to slot in at the back speaks volumes.
Pickford continues to alarm Southgate
It has been a major talking point for a while now but the debates don’t look like they will be going away anytime soon.
While Jordan Pickford could hardly do anything about Belgium’s two strikes on Sunday, his position as Three Lions No 1 continues to come under increasing threat due to his inconsistency between the sticks.
Southgate has had faith in the Everton goalkeeper throughout his time in charge, placing great value on his ability to distribute the ball well.
However, his time as No 1 could soon be coming to an end.
Pickford has made costly mistakes for Everton so far this season, and has a tendency to make rash decisions when he needs to keep a cool head.
His recent errors will certainly give Southgate cause for concern and with Dean Henderson and Nick Pope breathing down his neck, the Three Lions boss has some major thinking to do ahead of next summer’s Euros.
Toothless going forward
Yes, there were some key players missing up top against Belgium, including Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford, but the lack of ruthlessness in attack will worry Southgate.
England has failed to score in their last two Nations League encounters, and once again against Belgium, England was devoid of midfield spark despite having plenty of possession.
It’s all well and good having Harry Kane leading the line but if there’s no service in behind him, then chances are going to be few and far between, and that was evident against Belgium.
Jack Grealish – who it must be said shone for England against Belgium – and Mason Mount were the men tasked with linking up in attack with Kane on Sunday but it isn’t enough with a lack of creativity from midfield.
England is in dire need of technically gifted midfielders who can carry the ball forward and make the right passes when required, but against Belgium – a midfield duo of Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson lacked the inspiration needed to unlock a formidable defense.
When the likes of Sterling and Rashford return, Southgate must pick Aston Villa skipper Grealish in midfield and let him dictate the tempo of the game. He should be one of the first names on the team sheet going forward.
Picking a more forward-thinking system
Southgate’s recent decision to shelve his 4-3-3 formation and return to a three-man defense has led to many questions being raised, and they continued after the insipid defeat to Belgium.
The England boss deployed Mings, Dier, and Walker in the back three alongside Ben Chilwell and Kieran Trippier as wing-backs.
Add both Rice and Henderson to the equation in the midfield pivot, and it’s extremely hard to see where the excitement is coming from, which certainly links into the point above.
There is a real dearth of quality going forward in this formation and if England wants to be a success at next summer’s Euros against the bigger teams, then Southgate is going to have to be braver with his team selection.
But it must be stated that Southgate has to make sure he gets his midfield balance spot on.
A duo of Henderson and Rice is too negative, but a pivot out of Phil Foden, Grealish, or Mount may mean England come unstuck.
Sorting out the inferiority complex
England seems to beat the likes of Spain, Germany, and Belgium once in a while but when it really matters, the Three Lions appear to crumble.
And England desperately needs to solve that inferiority complex by the time the rescheduled Euros come around if they want to stand any chance of winning the summer tournament.
England had to beat Belgium to keep their Nations League hopes alive but they didn’t (that’s three losses to Belgium in two-and-a-half years) and they came unstuck under Southgate when it mattered against Holland in the semi-finals of the competition last June.
It has been a problem that has plagued England for many years now, way before Southgate’s time as manager.
But with this exciting squad that has gained more experience as the years have gone by following their World Cup semi-final heartbreak against Croatia in 2018, the time is now to really lay down a marker.
If England is to win their Euro 2020 group, they would face the runner-up of a group consisting of Germany, France, Portugal, and Hungary.
Unless England sorts the issue out soon, it could be another underwhelming major campaign for the Three Lions.