England show flaws and fight
England were not at their best and yet still emerged with a point after an entertaining 1-1 draw with Germany in Munich. The home side set the tempo early on and Gareth Southgate’s team had to hang in there, the defence dragged around.
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The goal early in the second half was a setback but Southgate changed it from the bench – something that he has not always done – and England finished as the stronger side, rewarded by Harry Kane’s goal. It was a flawed performance but one that showed fight.
Fifty England goals for Kane
Harry Kane said it was great to reach his 50 goals for England in a big game after his late penalty levelled the game against Germany.
Kane converted the penalty calmly when there was little to be calm about. Minutes remaining in Munich, with England’s Nations League chances on the line and perhaps the most iconic goalkeeper in Europe stood in front of him, the pressure was on.
Manuel Neuer went the wrong way and it would probably not have made any difference had the German guessed right. Kane has perfected that penalty low into the bottom-left corner of the net and there is nobody more reliable in that situation.
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The goal moves him clear of Sir Bobby Charlton on 50 goals for England, just three behind Wayne Rooney as his country’s record scorer of all-time. He will surely break that record. With two games to come in the next week, he might not have to wait long to do so.
Grealish makes a difference
Gareth Southgate has defended Jack Grealish and praised his impact after coming on as a substitute in England’s draw against Germany in the Nations League.
Southgate waited and waited to make his second change but when it came it turned the contest. Jack Grealish hugged the touchline, ran at defenders and picked out passes inside the penalty box. The ball seemed drawn towards him and the momentum shifted.
Others improved too. Mason Mount had done little but Raheem Sterling looked more of a threat in that central area and when Jarrod Bowen came on for Bukayo Saka, England were potent on both flanks. Kane twice could have scored from Grealish passes.
There are so many options for Southgate in the wide positions and one wonders whether Phil Foden is still the obvious choice to start when fully fit. But Grealish put up a persuasive argument for more minutes here and will likely have his opportunity at the weekend.
What is the best formation?
Image: Germany's Jonas Hofmann celebrates with team-mate Kai Havertz after scoring
Southgate still wants his side to have the flexibility to slip between formations with ease and that has been illustrated this past week with him selecting a back five against Hungary and a back four against Germany. Neither was an unqualified success.
The back five seemed to stunt England as a creative force in Budapest and though they offered a threat in Munich they were defensively shaky again. Germany found space against a four from the first minute. There were gaps between and behind throughout.
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It was a bold choice away to Germany – remember that he reverted to a five against the same opposition at Euro 2020. He could easily have switched to that system with Saka at wing-back. But England must be more than flexible. There is work to do.
Natural left-back is missed
Image: Germany's Kai Havertz opened up the England defence in the first minute
Had Southgate gone with Saka at wing-back it would have at least given England the natural left-footer on that flank that has been missed in these Nations League games. It was Kieran Trippier at left-back against Germany after James Justin’s turn in Hungary.
With Ben Johnson filling the role for the England U21s too, the absence of Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell has been keenly felt, their importance underlined. It is likely to be a temporary concern with one surely available when it matters. But it was an issue here.
Goals from elsewhere needed
Gareth Southgate praises England’s response after conceding and Harry Kane’s influence on the game after their draw with Germany in the Nations League.
A longer-term problem for Southgate is the ongoing onus on Kane and Sterling to score the team’s goals. Aside from those two, Harry Maguire with seven is the only player in this England squad to have scored more than four goals at international level.
“What is clear is that in terms of goals, we are heavily reliant on Raheem and Harry,” said Southgate beforehand. Saka did fire off a shot with his right foot in first-half stoppage time that Neuer had to push wide but that was as close as anyone else came.
Grealish needs to add goals for club as well as country, but Mount is capable and so is Foden. Has Southgate found a way to get those other than Kane into the positions to score? Finding an answer to that question is becoming more urgent now.
Inexperience no longer an excuse
As Kane said afterwards, the World Cup will be here before we know it, and this team needs to be ready. There is every reason to hope. This was the oldest starting line-up that Southgate has named – the most experienced too with almost 500 caps between them.
For much of the manager’s reign, one that has delivered tournament success not seen in over half a century, there has been talk of a team building for the future, a new generation emerging. That is still true of many in this squad but the key players are at their peak.
The youngest England defender on the pitch was 28-year-old John Stones. Kane himself, undoubtedly their most important player, turns 29 next month. This is their time. The challenge for Southgate and his team is to use these coming months to get it right.
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