Before we start today’s column, I know that at least seven out of the eight of you that might read this will already know the result of England’s trip to Bulgaria where, no doubt, they’ve pulled their respective fingers out and have managed to qualify for Euro 2020 after all.
But, folks, that is really not the point.
England’s woeful outing in the Czech Republic has to be commented on and a few home truths need to be told.
And you’ll be oh so delighted to know that as there is nothing else to talk about this week – no Premier League football, no transfer window and OK, we might come on to Rooney vs Vardy a bit later – I have time to go all in on Gareth Southgate and his team.
The question is, where on Earth do you start with that?
The team selection didn’t look too bad if you overlooked the fact that Michael Keane still seems to be Southgate’s preferred partner to Harry Maguire in the absence of John Stones – yes, we live in a world where John Stones is probably one of the more reliable central defenders available to Gareth.
Keane, as he proved several times, but none more so than when he let the guy peel off the back of him to draw the Czech’s level, is terrible. He makes Yerry Mina, a man only playing Premier League football because he scored a header against England from a set-piece in the World Cup (like that puts him in exclusive company), look like the competent player out of the two of them. Did you see Roy Keane’s smirk when he claimed “Keane had played well at the weekend”? He didn’t mean it. He just wanted to say it because they share the same surname and it’s probably the only way Roy gets to hear his name with some praise attached to it nowadays.
I applaud Southgate for wanting certain characters in the team ahead of certain reputations but can we please still check whether they are actually any good? I mean, is there anyone out there other than Gareth and his coaching staff who believe for a single second that Michael Keane is a better defender in better form than Fikayo Tomori of Chelsea? The kid must have watched that much unfold and wondered if he could still represent Nigeria – an option that Tammy Abraham saw removed, probably much to his disappointment, when he was thrown to try and save the game late on.
It wasn’t just Keane, either – Danny Rose had one of his more enigmatic evenings, and by enigmatic I actually been pretty damn terrible. Is there any reason that Ben Chilwell and him have to rotate? Was it a tactical ploy by Southgate? In Chilwell you have a guy on top form at the moment – Leicester are flying in the league and confidence is high. He’s also got quite a few caps now so should know what to do. Rose plays for Tottenham and was roasted against Southampton, destroyed against Bayern Munich and amply humiliated against Brighton – yet he’ll be OK for England, eh?
You can apply similar logic to the right-hand side of defence, though, to give credit to Kieran Trippier, he has adapted to life at Atletico Madrid quite well – but is he a better pick than Trent Alexander-Arnold? Of course not – TAA is top of the Premier League, creating goals for fun from right-back and a seriously good player. Trippier is only just regaining credibility as a top-flight footballer having been dire for Spurs last season.
Can we all take a moment to remember that Harry Maguire is the most expensive defender the world has ever seen. Naturally, that leads to the obvious assumption that he must also be the best. Let me assure you, that is a crazy assumption. Harry is slow, terrible at covering his mate at centre-back (remember Croatia in 2018 if you will), and unless he has got a whirlpool of movement in front of him, cannot slot a pass into the midfield or front line to save his life.
We move into midfield, which is something the Czechs were allowed to do with absolute freedom on Friday night. Jordan Henderson is going to look back on his career and will, somehow, point to a Champions League winners medal as skipper and, even more worryingly, a Premier League winner’s medal at some point too. He has his good points and, on a good day, they almost counteract all the bad ones. One thing Jordan is not is a defensive midfielder you play when you are looking to keep it tight – you might just about get away with asking him to be creative from there, and what I mean by creative is asking him to try and ping crossfield passes once in a while. Do not stick him in a two and ask him to be Ngolo Kante, please.
And Declan Rice, do you want him back Ireland? I know he is young and I know he is playing OKish for West Ham, but really? Is that all we have now to play in that position? I’d love to see that stats on him for that game but I suspect Roy Keane probably won the ball back as often and he was in the studio. Keano probably had a better pass completion percentage as well, because Rice was possibly the Czechs’ most creative player – other than Jordan Pickford.
I’ll get accused of being as much of a Mason Mount fanboy as Frank Lampard clearly is, but I don’t feel you can judge the lad on this performance. He was allegedly at the tip of the midfield triangle in the first-half but his two partners were so deep that they might have been sitting in the crowd – meaning that the Czech midfield had just a little space to exploit and pull a few strings.
Jadon Sancho will have better days and, to be fair, I cannot blame Southgate for picking him when the other option was a woefully out-of-form Marcus Rashford.
Raheem Sterling was poor – we are allowed to say that once in a while, aren’t we? The penalty came from him ruining a good goalscoring opportunity with a bad touch and I am convinced that had he been wearing a light blue top he’d have scored one of the other chances that came his way. He did create a great chance for Harry Kane in the second half but, let’s be honest, we didn’t deserve to score it.
Speaking of Kane, a fine penalty indeed – but he did his best work playing as the 10 and threading through super-intelligent passes to other people. The problem was, when he actually had the chances to do what we want Harry Kane to be doing, he fluffed them.
It’s not just Southgate’s team selection that really needs to be looked at – tactically, is this guy ever going to develop?
Once again, I applaud the fact that he wants the team to be more flexible in the way they line up and not be welded to one system for ever more. However, the risk with that is that you get blinded by choice and that seems to be what Southgate is suffering from here. Why did we go there and try to sit in and be tight? I am not suggesting we needed to go and be gung-ho, but it was clear after 20 minutes that the approach wasn’t working yet we didn’t change it to attempt to be more proactive until half-time. Why did it take so long? Why did we even set up in that way in the first place? Southgate, my dear man, stylish beards and a bit of dress sense will only get you so far. Managing the press as brilliantly as you do (and you really do) is great. But what I’d really like to see is some tactical nous now, please. You’ve had long enough.
And on that note – set-pieces. Here’s an idea – do what even the most basic of football brains were saying after the match: stick someone on that back post zone to stop them peeling off the back, will you? If I can spot it, if Wrighty can spot and if Lee Dixon can spot it then it is probably quite a simple fix.
As I said, England have probably stuck three past Bulgaria and righted many of these wrongs by the time you read this, but still. There are issues here.
Almost as many issues as there appear to be in the World of Wags right now. How much fun was that in the middle of last week?
For those of you that have been living under a rock for the past few days, Coleen Rooney once again endorsed the common theory that she is the brains in that relationship by turning all WAGatha Christie (I cannot and will not claim credit for that one, whoever did it first is a genius) and outing Rebekah Vardy’s account as being guilty of selling stories to the S*n behind her back. Please notice the account part of that, otherwise Rooney wasted a lot of lawyers fees.
How could Col be so sure? Well, she’d smelt a rat for a while – and no, we are not talking about Wayne. She was convinced someone was doing the dirty on her – and no, we are not talking about Wayne. She had an inkling it might have been Rebekah Vardy’s account taking private stories Col was putting on Insta (it’s a clever setting, ask your Nan) and selling them to the tabloids.
In a stroke of Rooney genius not seen since Wayne pinged an overhead kick in against City in the derby, Coleen blocked everyone other than Rebekah Vardy’s account and started to place fake news on her account. Said fake news ended up in the papers and Col had her evidence – and she proceeded to write the most brilliant crime-scene report which broke social media.
Vardy has denied it, or at least tried to palm off the theory that her account was hacked and it wasn’t her – after all, she is heavily pregnant in case she forgot to mention it.
This will rumble on, but has also led me to wonder whether Wayne is actually joining Derby County in January or whether that was one of the not-so-true stories…