England’s optimism heading into Euro 2020 was quickly tempered by their bland performance against Austria on Wednesday night.
The Three Lions would have been hoping for much more than a scrappy 1-0 victory heading into the match, but in truth the scoreline flattered them.
Gareth Southgate’s side were out-shot and out-passed at the Riverside Stadium in a match which raised more problems than it solved.
England’s injury woes were already a concern heading into the match and they appear to have been exacerbated with two crucial players picking up suspected complaints.
There were also warning signs of England’s weakness at centre-back after Southgate named just four natural players in that position in his final 26-man squad.
One of that quartet, Harry Maguire, as well as another senior member of the squad, is yet to prove his fitness as England count down the final 10 days until their first group-stage game.
Southgate is facing a race against time to get his side shipshape ahead of Euro 2020 – and here Mirror Football takes a look at the five most glaring problems facing the England boss.
Alexander-Arnold could leave void
After intense speculation, Trent Alexander-Arnold kept his spot in Gareth Southgate’s final 26-man squad for Euro 2020 as one of four right-backs.
But four is on the verge of becoming three after the Liverpool star limped off in the victory over Austria.
Alexander-Arnold appeared to suffer an injury to his left calf or hamstring as he cleared the ball late in the match, and limped around the pitch and down the tunnel.
There is a general sense that Southgate took quite so many right-backs because they each offer different qualities.
Kyle Walker can play at centre-back in a back three, Kieran Trippier can shift to the left flank and Reece James is arguably the most well-rounded player of the bunch.
Alexander-Arnold, meanwhile, is one of the best crossers of the ball in the squad and a renowned set-piece specialist.
It will be a major blow for Southgate if he is ruled out of the tournament.
Picking players who haven’t made the squad
On one hand, it’s nice to see Jesse Lingard given the chance to continue on the international stage even though he didn’t make the transition from the preliminary squad to the final squad.
But on the other hand, there can be no room for sentiment on the eve of the Euros, and playing the seven players who were cut from the 33-man squad makes little sense at this stage.
England would be better off using their warm-up games to get their tournament players up to speed, with a fairly lifeless performance against Austria only evidencing this further.
Lingard, to his credit, was one of England’s brighter players while the likes of James Ward-Prowse, Ben Godfrey and Ollie Watkins also came off the bench in the second half.
The likes of Jadon Sancho and Kalvin Phillips, however, played no part in the match despite making the grade for the final squad.
Jordan Henderson was also left on the bench, although this is somewhat more understandable given his recent injury problems, as we will come on to.
Grealish hacked to pieces
Jack Grealish was brilliant against Austria, picking up the ball from deep areas and constantly looking to drive at the Austria defence.
It was also slightly painful watching him at times, however, as his trickery was met with crunching tackles which left him bundled on the turf on many occasions.
The Aston Villa captain has been the most-fouled player in the Premier League over the last seasons and missed almost a third of the most-recent campaign with a shin injury.
In this way, it was concerning to see him strap an ice pack to his shin after he was substituted on Wednesday night.
And while his injury does not appear as serious as Alexander-Arnold’s, Southgate will also be sweating for an update on the attacking midfielder.
Early signs of centre-back frailty
Remarkably, there are as many natural right-backs in the 26-man England squad as there are centre-backs.
Two of those four centre-halves lined up against Austria – Conor Coady and Tyrone Mings – and the outcome was far from convincing.
Coady’s distribution was questionable throughout the match and he was fortunate not to be punished after losing Michael Gregoritsch late on as the striker nodded wide during a period of sustained pressure.
The Wolves captain reads the game excellently but still looks more comfortable in a back three, where there is more cover around him to compensate for a lack of pace.
Do England have enough centre-backs in the squad? Comment below.
Mings was more assured and impressed in the air and with a number of good blocks, although there were some rash decisions at times.
Overall, it was a shaky defensive performance which stressed the importance of John Stones and Harry Maguire to this Three Lions side, speaking of which…
Maguire and Henderson uncertainty
Gareth Southgate was unable to provide a concrete update on Harry Maguire’s return date this week and admitted he still has a “bit to do”.
The England boss said: “Like Jordan [Henderson], both have a bit to do to be available but we feel the possibility they can play a part and the fact they are such fantastic characters to have around the group.”
While Henderson was on the bench against Austria, there was little sign of the Liverpool captain stripping out of his tracksuit to make a substitute appearance.
Maguire, meanwhile, is still struggling with the ankle injury he sustained in early May and Southgate’s comments suggest he faces an uphill battle to feature against Croatia on 13 June.
If that is the case, the pressure will be on Stones to strike up a workable relationship with Mings or Coady, with the former the more likely partner due to being left-footed.
There’s a similar story in midfield, where Declan Rice – still returning to full fitness himself – will need to take on an important lynchpin role if Henderson is not able to start England’s first group-stage game.