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EURO 2020

Why England’s defensive solidity at Euro 2020 could cost them at World Cup 2022 – Stan Collymore

A lot will be made about the performances of John Stones, Harry Maguire and, before him, Tyrone Mings at the heart of England’s defence at Euro 2020.

And that’s fair enough when you consider England have become the first team not to concede a goal in their opening five matches at a European Championship.

But however well those three have played, there can be no arguing about the fact that the Three Lions’ best defenders have been Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips — two men who have made themselves indispensable to Gareth Southgate and their team.

The job those two have done in putting out little flash fires as soon as they have appeared should not be underestimated.

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It’s something they have been able to do so often because their positioning has been so good.

Gareth Southgate walks out onto the training field at St George's Park
Gareth Southgate has got his tactics perfect so far at Euro 2020

In doing so, they have given the two or three behind them, three or four if you include Jordan Pickford, the confidence to play in the manner they have done, and, as a result, they have made our defence virtually impregnable.

There were a couple of occasions on Saturday when Ukraine had five-minute spells in which they threatened us, and likewise Germany and the Czech Republic before them.

But the addition of the one extra defensive midfielder has shored things up in those moments and that’s some going when you consider that most of the talk about perceived weaknesses with our team centred on defending coming into the tournament.

It would have been easy for Southgate to bow to calls to unleash the midfield Dream Team at the expense of one of those two, but he stuck to his guns and it has worked.

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Jordan Pickford has five clean sheets out of five at Euro 2020

Will England go all the way at Euro 2020? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

That said, we’ve played largely against B-class opposition, with the exception of Germany and Croatia, who are A-minus.

And had we met Denmark or Italy before now, or Portugal, they would have tested Rice and Phillips in a way that none of those sides we have met have been able to do.

There’s a flip side to playing the extra defensive midfielder, of course, and it’s that only Hungary have made fewer key passes in an opponents’ half than England.

So there’s a question about what cost our that defensive solidity come at and it’s something we will have to address at some point soon.

Football is about balance and if you don’t get your balance right you will come unstuck eventually against the very best teams.

Now, that might not happen in this tournament, we might go on to win it and we might go to the World Cup in Qatar next year as European Champions.

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Scotland's Lyndon Dykes (left) battles for the ball with England's Kalvin Phillips (centre) and Declan Rice during the UEFA Euro 2020 Group D match at Wembley Stadium,
Kalvin Phillips (centre) and Declan Rice have been impeccable and impenetrable at Euro 2020

But if we come up there against Argentina, Brazil or France, even South Korea, then one of those teams will test the two defensive midfielders to their absolute max in a way no one has done this time out.

It’s to Southgate’s credit to Gareth that he thought, ‘There aren’t any teams in our group who will really test us, so let’s get momentum and results in these early games’.

But I now want to see a bit more of that balance at the other end of the pitch as well because, if we can find it, there who knows where it might have taken us in 18 months’ time.

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