Ahead of England's closing Nations League clash with Germany at Wembley, we take a look at some of the most pressing talking points concerning Gareth Southgate's men in their final match before the Qatar World Cup.
(This article was originally published on 26.09.2022)
As England’s relegation from League A in the Nations League was confirmed following a dismal 1-0 defeat to Italy at the San Siro, it was their lack of creativity going forward which was perhaps most shocking on the night.
With a squad brimmed of a plethora of elite attacking options, the fact England have only been able to muster one goal across their five Nations League fixtures, a penalty from Harry Kane in Munich in June, is particularly alarming.
Their struggles in front of goal in the Nations League are laid bare when you consider the Three Lions are one of only two teams on the continent to have failed to register a non-penalty goal in the competition this campaign, the other being San Marino.
Heading into the Germany match there therefore ought to be an onus within the England camp to set this record straight, and take the game to Die Mannschaft in order to restore some much needed confidence and pride.
Captain Harry Kane will be charged with leading this effort, with the Spurs man just three goals away from levelling Wayne Rooney’s all-time record of 53 for England. Kane will be keen to give himself the chance to reach this milestone during the World Cup finals in Qatar, and getting on the scoresheet against Germany would aid this objective.
bet365 have boosted a Bet Builder of England to win, both teams to score and Harry Kane to have over 1.5 shots on target in the match from 17/2 to 11/1.
There could also be an opening for Brentford hitman Ivan Toney, with the 26-year-old striker included in Gareth Southgate’s matchday squad for the first time. Toney will be hoping to receive some game-time at Wembley to strengthen his claim for a place on the plane to Qatar in November.
A large volume of England supporters have attributed the team’s problems going forward to manager Gareth Southgate’s persistence with his favoured 3-4-2-1 formation.
Typically deploying a back three with wing-backs, critics suggest the setup is overly pragmatic in light of the wealth of attacking quality within the England ranks.
Southgate has also used a back four on occasion, with a move to a 4-2-3-1 formation allowing for the inclusion of an attacking midfielder such as Phil Foden or Jack Grealish in favour of an additional central defender.
Despite the shocking run England are currently on, boss Southgate may feel it is too late to move away from the back three system which served the Three Lions well in the past two tournaments with the Qatar World Cup just around the corner.
Should he maintain this shape, it is clear there is work to be done to fine-tune a system which currently appears stale.
Whether it be in a back three or back four formation, this England side urgently needs freshened up and given a new lease of life in an attacking sense.
Debates regarding England’s optimal formation ahead of the World Cup appear to largely hinge on the make-up of the defence.
With an embarrassment of riches in the right-back position with players of the calibre of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Reece James, Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier all vying for inclusion in the starting XI, and a comparative weakness at centre-back, manager Southgate has up until now viewed a back three setup as the best solution to his selection dilemmas in defence.
There is a feeling Southgate prefers a back three for added security at the back in the absence of an identified a centre-back partnership he can rely on.
The England manager’s continued selection of Harry Maguire despite his woes at club level is perhaps indicative of his lack of faith in his pool of centre-backs, with an apparent dearth of left-sided defenders.
Manchester City’s John Stones seems to be the only central defender assured of a starting place in Qatar, with Southgate’s selection against Germany likely to be very close to what he regards as his best team ahead of the World Cup kicking off.
As settled and secure backline can go a long way towards building confidence in a team, will be interesting to watch whether the England boss sticks with his trusted setup yet again, or twists and changes things up in defence.
One England player whose quality the visitors at Wembley will be well aware of is Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham. The 19-year-old has already developed into one of the Bundesliga’s finest players despite his tender age, and will head to Qatar in November with the intention of announcing his talents on the world stage.
Having played over 1,000 more minutes than any other teenage player in Europe’s top five leagues since 2020, Bellingham is viewed as a generational talent at home in England.
Drip-fed into Gareth Southgate’s senior England team in the past couple of years, the Birmingham City academy graduate will be hoping to make a good impression against Hansi Flick’s Germany ahead of the World Cup.
The traders at bet365 have boosted a Bet Builder of both teams to score, Harry Kane to score anytime and Jude Bellingham to contribute over 0.5 assists in the match from 17/2 to 10/1.
Each of these talking points and dilemmas discussed ahead of England’s clash against Germany will ultimately rest on the shoulders of manager Gareth Southgate.
Increasingly under-fire in light of England’s wretched run of form, Southgate will be desperate to close the Nations League group on a high and send England into the World Cup with an element of restored confidence.
Although a victory will do little to dispel detractors’ justified concerns which have grown over an extended period of unsatisfactory results, it could help to rebuild a bit of confidence and belief within an England squad which is likely to have been wounded by the defeat by a weakened Italy team in the San Siro.
With a range of complex selection dilemmas, all eyes will be on Southgate to oversee an improved performance against Germany and silence a growing army of sceptics with just 90 minutes of match preparation for the World Cup remaining.
England are to win the match at Wembley, with odds of 12/5 for a draw and an away win for Germany priced at 19/10.
bet365 have boosted a Bet Builder of both teams to score, over 2 goals in the match for both teams combined and Phil Foden to have over 0.5 Shots on Target from 21/10 to 11/4.