Southgate must use crucial week to address England's concerns

Southgate must use crucial week to address England's concerns
Southgate speaks ahead of England's upcoming Nations League tie against Italy
Southgate speaks ahead of England's upcoming Nations League tie against Italy
Gareth Southgate (52) is gearing up for one of the most important periods of his England tenure so far over the next week as the 2022 World Cup edges even closer.

With just two fixtures remaining until showtime in Qatar this November, most teams heading to the tournament will be using the current international break to hone their preparations. 

But for England and Southgate, they do not appear to be close to their final form. 

Despite the Three Lions seemingly shaking off the Euro 2020 final defeat by waltzing through the rest of their World Cup qualifying campaign, things took a dive in the recent summer. 

A winless record containing two draws and two defeats from their four Nations League matches - including a 4-0 drubbing at home to Hungary - has left the side searching for answers. 

What seems like a minor concern in the grand scheme of things, England’s shortcomings have left them at risk of suffering relegation to League B of the competition they once finished third in. 

While they still have remaining fixtures against Italy and Germany, the clock is ticking for Southgate to change the mood with less than two months until they meet Iran on the world stage. 

Old faces vs. new names

There was plenty to talk about following the reveal of Southgate’s latest England squad and a familiar topic of discussion cropped up again - picking players based on their current form versus their play with the national team. 

Southgate has typically favoured the latter, opting to go for more tried-and-tested names that he can put his trust in. 

We saw that through the selections of Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw, which did cause some confusion as to their lack of action for Manchester United. 

The Red Devils pair held a big role in England’s Euro 2020 journey but have struggled to get going in the current campaign and haven’t exactly warranted their latest call-ups. 

But there were some players that were rewarded for their form to start the season. Brentford striker Ivan Toney (26) is the standout name earning his first call-up to the Three Lions.

Meanwhile, Tottenham centre-back Eric Dier (28) was rewarded for his solid performances under Antonio Conte by gaining a recall to the fold after being overlooked since his last selection in March 2021. 

And although it is unlikely that Southgate will deviate massively away from the players he has always stuck with for the World Cup, the remaining Nations League will still give him one last opportunity to see how the lesser-used players fare as part of a potential refresh to his line-ups. 

Midfield conundrum 

While Southgate has an overall selection headache, he also has big decisions to make in terms of England’s midfield set-up. 

A notable absentee from the squad is Kalvin Phillips (26), who emerged as a star man in the middle of the pitch during Euro 2020. 

Securing a move to Manchester City from Leeds this summer, things haven’t gone to plan having made just two substitute appearances and recently learning he will be sidelined to fix a lingering shoulder problem. 

With Jordan Henderson stepping in to replace Phillips, questions arise as to whether the Liverpool man is an adequate replacement or whether he still has the quality to feature at a major tournament. 

There has also been concern about the early season form of Chelsea star Mason Mount (24) - a usual name on Southgate’s team sheet. 

Mount enjoyed a productive term last time out, but he has yet to record a single goal involvement in what has been a mixed opening for the Blues. 

A poor-functioning midfield will see England picked apart by the top sides at the World Cup and while it will be down to some players to raise their level, it is up to Southgate to find a combination capable of holding control of the ball when it matters. 

Lessening the Kane load 

England under Southgate have not necessarily found goal-scoring a big issue, but their one goal in this edition of the Nations League has cause for concern - in spite of the attacking talent on display. 

It is a matter of when and not if Harry Kane (29) will break the nation’s all-time scoring record, but it has become obvious obvious that the Tottenham talisman needs a bit of help from elsewhere. 

Raheem Sterling (27) has been a good outlet for goals when starting alongside Kane, but things start to get a little unsteady when looking elsewhere. 

Tammy Abraham, despite his flowing form in Italy for Roma, was used sparsely by Southgate over the summer, while Marcus Rashford has not played for England since Euro 2020 as he looks to rediscover himself. 

The inclusion of Toney is a more interesting profile joins the likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ollie Watkins and Patrick Bamford as strikers to have been tested by Southgate.

Toney is certainly an interesting option and the two games in the lead-up to the World Cup seem a good opportunity to see how he fares on the international stage. 

But most importantly for Southgate, the next week serves as a chance to fine-tune his system to not only get the most out of Kane, but to find out where else the goals could come from.