With qualification secured for next summer’s World Cup Finals in Russia, how will England fare after such a disappointing tournament last time out?
Harry Kane’s last minute winner against Slovenia at Wembley on Thursday provided Gareth Southgate’s side with the points they needed to progress, but a mediocre performance on the night left fans groaning about the country’s prospects in Russia.
Marcus Rashford won the plaudits on the night with an impressive display on the left wing, but England lacked creativity across the pitch – a gap that Southgate hopes Adam Lallana will be able to fulfill when he regains full fitness.
On paper, the current England squad is strong; many of the regular starters are indispensable to their clubs, with the Spurs trio of Eic Dier, Dele Alli and Harry Kane implementing themselves as essential to Southgate’s plans – but that was the case in the 2016 Euros.
England seem to be plagued with major tournament failure, and that’s no secret to the rest of the world. The big game players that are so heavily relied upon at their respective clubs seem to shy away from the stage at major tournaments. Even Wayne Rooney, arguably one of England’s greatest ever players, only registered one World Cup goal.
The murmurs of England fans on Thursday night were enough to leave us all feeling relatively pessimistic for Russia next summer, so what hope is there?
Based on the success rate in France in the summer of 2016, we can almost definitely be sure that Harry Kane won’t be taking corners in Russia. The Spurs striker is in career defining form in 2017, and that rarely fails to translate into his England performances. England fans will be hoping that the 24-year-old will save some goals for when the season finishes, as he looks to be Southgate’s main man.
Thursday night saw Raheem Sterling in behind the striker, and it was a position the City winger looked uncomfortable in. Southgate will presumably occupy that spot with either Dele Alli or Adam Lallana next summer, and both are exciting options for the England manager.
The task for Southgate, though, will be to find a back four combination that consistently works; the defenders have been rotated a number of times during the qualification process, but with John Stones making his way back into the squad for Thursday night’s game, are we beginning to see the four that the manager has in mind for next summer? The big questions are whether Danny Rose comes back into the team after he regains fitness, and if there’s any room for an impressive Harry Maguire when the tournament begins.
Southgate has some huge decisions to make in the coming months, but his biggest challenge is to make England an exciting team to watch again by the time we line up on that pitch in June.