Disastrous in defence: England will suffer Euro 2020 heartbreak unless they get their act together at the back – The Telegraph

Disastrous in defence: England will suffer Euro 2020 heartbreak unless they get their act together at the back - The Telegraph

England horribly fallible in defence against Kosovo in Euro 2020 qualifying

It had been hard to draw too many conclusions from Euro 2020 Group A qualifying before Tuesday night, but there is now overwhelming evidence that yet another qualification procession will end in more major finals disappointment if England do not get their act together at the back.

This, of course, is not a concern that had not already been signposted after John Stones had gifted Holland a goal in the semi-finals of the Nations League in the summer.

Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Jadon Sancho helped the Three Lions score five before the break, but they wobbled in the second half as Kosovo gave them a scare.

England manager Gareth Southgate will have struggled to decide whether his glass was half-full or half-empty as he reflected on a thud and blunder night against Kosovo at St Marys.

England took another huge step towards Euro 2020 qualification with a 5-3 win on a crazy evening in Southampton.

First things first – everyone at Southampton enjoyed a thrilling Euro 2020 qualifier that led to a rousing ovation for both sides at the conclusion of Englands chaotic 5-3 victory.

The bottom line, taking the positive view, is that England won again at the top of Group A and that means they will pass the 10-year mark since the last time they lost a qualifying match, against Ukraine in October 2009. Jadon Sancho celebrated his first international goals, Raheem Sterling maintained his sparkling form and Harry Kane enhanced his scoring statistics again. Kane is now level with Bryan Robson on the list of all-time England scorers, with 26 goals, though he passed up the chance to catch David Platt in 12th position when his second-half penalty was saved – and that in itself was a measure of how England produced the unexpected at times.

And Southgate will have revelled in Englands magnificent attacking display, spearheaded by a world-class performance from Raheem Sterling, who scored once as well as setting up two goals for Jadon Sancho and another for Harry Kane.

Southgate was entitled to be impressed by the determination of his players to make up for what had happened in the opening exchanges. Another team might have lost confidence because it was, to say the least, an extraordinary moment: Englands players passing the ball between themselves in their own half and then Keane, trying to find Harry Maguire, presenting it straight to Vedat Muriqi, Kosovos lead striker, just outside the penalty area. Berisha turned his shot past the oncoming Jordan Pickford and, briefly, it felt like England might be in for an unpleasant evening.

Englands attacking trident tormented Kosovo after central defender Michael Keane presented them with a goal inside the first minute, passing unerringly to Valon Berisha with a clear run at goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

That was Sterlings eighth goal in as many appearances for his country – could it really be true he had gone three years without scoring earlier in his international career? – though his most exceptional work came later in the first half when a brilliantly disguised turn in the centre circle led directly to Kane scoring. As Sterling drove through the middle, Kane peeled off to the left. Englands captain took the shot on his left foot and Ari Muric, Kosovos goalkeeper, let the ball run beneath his body.

Sadly, however, there must be a misery-guts side to this story even though England are celebrating four wins from four Euro 2020 qualifiers and are cruising through Group A after scoring 19 goals in those games.

Very soon, though, the boisterous corner of Kosovo supporters found out how difficult it can be against elite opponents. Sterling, in particular, was relentless in his desire to get behind the opposition and Kosovos increasing desperation could probably be summed up by Englands third goal. Sancho drove in a low cross from the right. Muric pulled his foot away when he had the chance to block it and the ball flew in off Mergim Vojvoda for an own goal.

The bottom line is this – England have little or no chance of beating quality international sides if they defend as shoddily and carelessly as this, if they give possession away as cheaply as this and are as easy to get at as Kosovo made it look.

Kosovo are improving rapidly, entering this game on the back of a 15-game unbeaten run and with a victory over the Czech Republic that raised their hopes of being among the qualifiers next summer.

It was one of the quickest goals ever scored against England and for Keane the difficult truth was that it was not his first calamity in this qualifying programme. The same player had also been badly at fault when Montenegro opened the scoring against England in March and perhaps the best that could be said was that, then like now, he did at least partially make up for it.

This is a slightly false rating given their ability but the fact they pulled England back from 5-1 to 5-3 in the second half and created an air of anxiety and expectation among the fans at either end of St Marys says everything about the flaws in Southgates side.

Read more It must have been lots of fun for the Southampton crowd but Southgate cannot have been encouraged by the way Kosovo scored twice in the second half without reply, especially when England had also suffered the ignominy of going behind only 34 seconds into the match – a goal that will be remembered as a personal ordeal for Michael Keane.

England, defensively, were not good enough – nowhere near the standard that would be acceptable at the highest international level.

West Ham Uniteds Declan Rice gave the ball away badly for Berishas second while Manchester Uniteds Harry Maguire clumsily failed to clear before hauling down Vedat Muriqi, who scored from the spot.

Read more Again, however, they were guilty of a strange lack of focus at the start of the next half. This time it was Declan Rice with the loose pass. Muriqis cross picked out Berisha and Englands defence were badly out of position as he cut inside Jordan Henderson to beat Pickford with a splendid, rising shot.

Maguire made an horrendous meal of the most basic piece of work to make it a treble helping of dreadful defending by England and for all the flair and fantasy of their attacking play there is no hiding away from the fact this is a serious weakness.

Maybe England were guilty of complacency. Whatever it was, they continued to defend obligingly and next it was Maguires turn to wave an apologetic hand. He had not properly managed to clear a cross and, trying to make up his mistake, tripped Muriqi. It was a clear penalty and Muriqi scored to Pickfords left.

Southgate himself pointed at other errors, such as the lack of basic tracking back, that also exposed England. This was hardly a night of unbridled joy for Englands manager. There is much to concern him.

The next penalty decision was less obvious, for an alleged foul on Ross Barkley, but Muric blocked Kanes effort and perhaps the only surprise was there were no more goals in the final 35 minutes.

Imagine the likes of Belgium, France, Spain, Germany and a few others when faced with the sort of defending England produced against Kosovo?

The attackers who play for those countries would be licking their lips at the idea of facing this England defence at a major tournament.

England still have Manchester Citys John Stones to come back but he had a nightmare in the Uefa Nations League semi-final against the Netherlands while Liverpools Joe Gomez, the best option outside the current selections, is not getting regular games at club level.

Southgates first choice defenders have not proved reliable against international opposition of the highest quality – and produced no evidence here to suggest they will do so any time soon.

Kosovos ability to run through Englands midfield and get at that soft centre would also have concerned Southgate.

It may seem somewhat spoilsport to focus in on this negative after another important victory but to ignore it would be delusion. Southgate will not be letting it escape his attention.

For all the class and potency of Englands attack, their current defensive condition suggests they will need to rack up at least three goals against those teams mentioned previously to stand a chance of victory because there is no way they will not concede goals.

This task will not be as easy as it was here against a Kosovo side committed to an all-out attacking strategy that occasionally left them wide open at the back.

They have scored 14 goals in their three home games, more than any other nation in Euros qualifying so far.

And at the heart of it all was the brilliant Sterling, who produced a 45-minute performance against Kosovo that was simply on another level from anyone else.

Sterling ended a barren 27-game sequence stretching back three years when he scored twice in Englands 3-2 win in Spain almost a year ago – now he is irreplaceable, a talent reaching full maturity.

Since that game in Spain he has played seven games, scoring six goals in Englands qualifying games so far and producing four assists.

He simply could not be stopped in the first 45 minutes and his partnership with Kane is now reaching telepathic proportions as he set up Englands captain for his 26th goal in 41 appearances, level with Bryan Robson and one behind David Platt.

Sterling has been involved in 12 goals in his last eight England games, with eight goals and four assists. He and Kane have combined for six goals under Southgate, at least three times as many as any other duo.

Kanes performance contained a rare blemish when his second-half penalty was saved by Arijanet Muric, only his second miss in 10 attempts for England.

In the end it was not costly as Kosovos brave attempt at a miracle turnaround fell short and England can look at a Group A table with a flawless appearance.

But Englands display, particularly that occasionally shambolic defence, was not flawless and they will not come away unscathed if this is produced on a bigger stage.

More news:

World Cup insight: Lack of expectation could be just what England need – Sportinglife.com
World Cup insight: Lack of expectation could be just what England need – Sportinglife.com
England given guidance on how to avoid breaching betting rules at World Cup – Belfast Telegraph
England given guidance on how to avoid breaching betting rules at World Cup – Belfast Telegraph
Why are teachers in England still working more hours than in other countries? – The Independent
Why are teachers in England still working more hours than in other countries? – The Independent
25% of teachers in England work more than 60 hours a week – study – The Guardian
25% of teachers in England work more than 60 hours a week – study – The Guardian
England should consider Pacific Islands tour, says coach Scott Wisemantel – The Guardian
England should consider Pacific Islands tour, says coach Scott Wisemantel – The Guardian
Brexit: EU citizens feel safer in Scotland than England, study finds – The National
Brexit: EU citizens feel safer in Scotland than England, study finds – The National
Jonny May: England have every weapon to win the World Cup – Sportinglife.com
Jonny May: England have every weapon to win the World Cup – Sportinglife.com
England receive official World Cup welcome in Japan as Billy Vunipola says next few weeks will live with us forever – Telegraph.co.uk
England receive official World Cup welcome in Japan as Billy Vunipola says next few weeks will live with us forever – Telegraph.co.uk
Jonny May tips Englands attack to cut through teams at the World Cup – BT Sport
Jonny May tips Englands attack to cut through teams at the World Cup – BT Sport
Eng v Aus, 5th Ashes Test, reaction Joe Root wants to bring Ashes back to England – International Cricket Council
Eng v Aus, 5th Ashes Test, reaction Joe Root wants to bring Ashes back to England – International Cricket Council
Sacrificing Ashes for a World Cup win appears worthwhile for England – The Guardian
Sacrificing Ashes for a World Cup win appears worthwhile for England – The Guardian
Jonny May amazed by depth of firepower in England Rugby World Cup squad: Its like nothing I have ever been a part of – Telegraph.co.uk
Jonny May amazed by depth of firepower in England Rugby World Cup squad: Its like nothing I have ever been a part of – Telegraph.co.uk