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Big-match debrief: England vs Copenhagen

night: Sterling

Lost in the middle

The main question on the lips of those who watched England’s matches in Iceland and Denmark over the last week is why Gareth Southgate’s tactics were so negative — to begin with anyway.

There are many mitigating circumstances and it is too soon to suggest Southgate has lost his way. But the need to play two midfield ‘pivots’ in both Reykjavik and Copenhagen, against teams fair to middling who are not likely to present any major threat at tournaments, makes you wonder if Southgate has decided on a safety-first approach or is simply happy to look at new faces in the Nations League as he plans his squad for next year’s Euros.

Kalvin Phillips enjoyed a fine season, helping Leeds win promotion, and James Ward-Prowse has come of age at Southampton but the necessity to play both in these matches was not really there.

Declan Rice is highly rated in defensive midfield and Eric Dier can play there too so we seem blessed/overloaded (depending on your point of view) with holding players, which is odd, especially as the Three Lions have an abundance of attacking talent.

The truth is at the moment Southgate is not getting the best out of the likes of Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane aside, it was defence all the way against the Danish. Certainly, the midfield is too defensive to get goals and Southgate requires a rethink for the three home October fixtures.

Unfair swap: Grealish got little chance after replacing Phillips

Forward planning

The irony of Tuesday’s performance is that, from a purely footballing point of view, the return of Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood cannot come soon enough to boost England’s attacking options. A spark is badly needed.

Jack still waiting

Five years on from committing his international future to England, Jack Grealish finally made his debut in Denmark. For 14 minutes. Out of position on the right-hand side of midfield. The Villa skipper’s wait for a real opportunity goes on.