It’s official, England’s unbeaten run in tournament qualifiers has ended after 10 years and 43 games with a shock defeat to the Czech Republic. This was a side England nailed 5-0 at Wembley in March but England never got going in the Czech capital despite taking the early lead.
Harry Kane put away a fifth minute penalty after Raheem Sterling had been tripped. But the Czech’s got themselves into the game with a series of corners with Jakub Brabec slipping past Michael Keane to get away a shot that beat Jordan Pickford after 11 minutes.
England lacked impetus throughout the first half, whilst the Czech’s looked bright in midfield, playing the ball around Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson. England were better in the second half with Sterling, Kane and Jadon Sancho failing to connect with presentable chances. At the other end England continued to give the ball away and Pickford made fine stops from Vladimir Coufal and Alex Kral.
However a sloppy passage of play in the 85th minute sealed the game for the Czech’s when Keane and Harry Maguire played Pickford into trouble. His pump up the pitch came back down the left with veteran striker Zdenek Ondrasek worked some space on the edge of the box and slotted past Pickford for the winner.
No Need to Panic, But…
The inquest will begin and England have three days to dwell on and put right the wrongs of Prague. In truth England have played well more than enough over the last two years to make a rip it up and start again approach ridiculous. On the night only Pickford could claim to have played well, it’s rare so many players under perform.
However several problems need to be addressed. Firstly in central defence Maguire looked edgy throughout, perhaps a symptom of his Manchester United woes. Maguire has generally looked more assured when partnered by Joe Gomez, but the Liverpool man is currently on the fringes at Anfield. Instead of Gomez, Southgate has turned to Michael Keane who has started all England’s qualifiers. Keane has been at least partly to blame for 4 of the 6 goals England have conceded in this campaign which allied to his uncertainty on the ball and poor club form should seem him dropped.
Going forward Southgate will hope to have John Stones back and with Aymeric Laporte out to a long term injury at Manchester City, Stones will be a key figure for his club once he’s back on the pitch. Elsewhere Tyrone Mings has been called into the last two England squads and looks the best of the other options currently on the table.
At left back Danny Rose has an appalling night. Poor in possession, offering little in attack and being caught out in defence, England fans will be relieved he’s suspended for the game in Bulgaria. Rose rebounded from a poor World Cup with a strong season at Tottenham last term. However he’s currently struggling and with his club future up in the air he needs to be taken out of the firing line for his country.
Ben Chilwell will play on Monday night and is enjoying a good club season with Leicester. Luke Shaw is another option going forward but needs to prove he can stay fit for Manchester United after struggling for England availability throughout Southgate’s time in charge, you can’t consider a defender for a tournament if you can’t depend on his availability.
If the defensive issues have obvious solutions, the midfield remains an area of real concern. After some excellent performances in the Nations League against Croatia and Spain, England’s midfield has regressed of late. Declan Rice is struggling in the defensive midfield role. After been giving the run around by Frankie De Jong last summer, there has been little evidence in Rice’s last three games to suggest he’s ready for international football. Against the Czech’s he again was at fault for the first goal and lacked either composure or energy at the base of midfield.
Playing Rice alongside Henderson isn’t working with the Liverpool man looking too ponderous, as he did when he played alongside Eric Dier. Henderson’s best games for England have been as the sole holding player as we saw at the World Cup, although he is now playing a more advanced role for Liverpool.
It’s hard to blame Mason Mount who struggled on his first England start but will have plenty of chances going forward to prove his worth. One player that should benefit from this poor performance should be Harry Winks. The Tottenham man is better in possession than Rice but has remained on the fringes of the England side. Finding the balance in midfield remains a major issue for England.
England will definitely qualify for Euro 2020, but games are running out and Southgate needs a settled defence and a more assured midfield if England are to be contenders in the summer. There’s no need to panic, but some changes are now required.