Gareth Southgate must strike the right balance between caution and adventure in England’s midfield

Deep into the post-match analysis of England’s comfortable 2-0 victory in Tirana, ITV displayed a graphic of a potential line-up for Gareth Southgate to consider, selected by studio analysts Ian Wright, Ashley Cole and Roy Keane.

Under the heading ‘Attacking England’, it included a front three of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford supported by a midfield of Jack Grealish, Mason Mount and Phil Foden. The only surprise was that, in a remarkable show of restraint, they decided against squeezing Jadon Sancho in at right-back.

It was a neat illustration of the depth of talent at Southgate’s disposal. But as Wright admitted, it was also a line-up that will almost certainly never play together. Yes, that forward line could start the opening game of the European Championship this summer against Croatia. The midfield configuration, though, is totally out of step with the England manager’s thinking.

While tinkering with different systems over the past year, Southgate has been far more cautious when selecting who to play in the middle of the park. It was the same story against Albania.

Declan Rice started alongside Kalvin Phillips in Tirana. Both players are on the more defensively-minded end of the midfield spectrum and of all the combinations available to Southgate, this was the most cautious possible pairing. Was that really necessary against Group I’s fourth seeds and the 66th-ranked team in the world?



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