England produced a limp performance in a goalless draw with the USA on Friday, but what caused the drop in levels just four days after an impressive 6-2 win over Iran? Sky Sports News‘ reporter Rob Dorsett provides his thoughts from Doha…
Is Kane struggling with fitness?
Harry Kane does not look fit. Yes, he was cleared to play against the USA, but he didn’t look as mobile or sharp as a fully-firing Kane.
As was the case for the 20 minutes against Iran, after he’d taken that heavy blow to his ankle and before he was replaced, he was unusually ineffective.
What’s more, Kane missed a chance in injury time which, nine times out of 10, he would gobble up to earn England an ugly win.
I’ve learned Kane missed more than one England training session last week, in the build-up to the Iran game, as FA physios and medics managed his workload.
Remember, Antonio Conte said a week before the Spurs captain flew out for the World Cup that Kane was “really, really tired”.
“And yesterday we had a soft training session and at one point he stopped himself to recover energy,” Conte went on.
With England all but through to the last 16, there’s a strong argument for him to be rested. Recover, refocus and prepare for bigger games to come. But I doubt England’s boss will think like that.
Gareth Southgate joked before the USA game: “It would be a brave decision to leave him out of the starting team!”
Maybe now is the time for the England boss to be brave?
Are there alternatives?
Marcus Rashford has looked sharp when he’s come off the bench in the first two fixtures, and he’s had the confidence of scoring his first World Cup goal, too.
In what’s likely to be a more Premier League-like encounter against Wales, with more physicality across the pitch, why risk an already-struggling Kane? Especially when Rashford’s pace and direct running would cause the Wales defence a whole heap of different problems.
After England’s bore draw with America, the mood and expectations, for both players and fans, are back to where they were on the eve of the tournament: mixed.
Before the World Cup started, if you’d offered anyone in the England camp, or in the stands, a scenario where only a four-goal defeat to Wales in the final Group B game could prevent progression to the knockout stages, most would have happily taken that.
England had gone six games without a win – their worst run under Southgate – and had a host of injury and form worries. But then, England put six goals past Iran with the sort of flowing, attacking verve we haven’t seen in a long time.
England’s two youngest stars blossomed. Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham had taken their first World Cup game by storm. The delight and expectation soared. Then came a tepid and lethargic showing, just four days later against the USA.
Expect Southgate to make some changes for England’s final group game against Wales.
Wider injury issues remain
Underneath it all, those injury and form worries remain. James Maddison is now training with the full England squad for the first time since they flew out to Qatar a week and a half ago. Don’t expect him to be thrown straight into the starting XI, however.
Another big call Southgate surely has to make is to play Phil Foden from the start. It was mystifying that he remained on the bench against the USA – when England had made only three of their five substitutions and when they needed someone with guile and passing prowess to prise open the American defence.
Saka and Raheem Sterling were unable to have the same startling impact against the USA that they did against Iran, and so both are in the firing line with so many quality wide attacking options in this England squad.
Southgate will also be considering whether Bellingham should be given a rest against Wales. Awesome against Iran, he was much less effective against a busy and energetic American midfield. That was his 24th game this season – that’s 24 games in 17 weeks. He’s 19 years old, remember.
Kalvin Phillips needs game time as he chases match fitness and Jordan Henderson brought some much-needed leadership and control to England’s midfield when he came off the bench on Friday night. They are pushing for starting berths.
As is Kyle Walker, whose pace and drive would be a welcome addition to England’s pedestrian approach right now. The medical reports may dictate how much Walker can play, though, after he underwent groin surgery last month.
The one real positive to come out of the America dross-fest was an England clean sheet. There’s been only one of those in the previous eight internationals. And that suggests the debate about Harry Maguire’s involvement in the England team is over for now. Manchester United’s maligned centre-half has looked good in both World Cup games so far.
So Southgate has a dilemma: England need a win, to secure top spot in Group B and line up a last-16 game against Ecuador or Senegal, instead of the Netherlands. They also need a win to regain momentum after the USA stutter.
That would suggest he needs to play his strongest XI.
But there is also the bigger picture of how best to prepare for the knockout games, with Maddison, Walker and Phillips needing game time, and Kane, Bellingham and Saka needing a rest.
As ever, the England manager’s selections will be closely scrutinised and, ultimately, judged on the next result – a result that will set the tone for England’s knockout games to come.
Credit : Source link