England miles off it ahead of World Cup as Italy loss shows problems facing Three Lions

5 mins read

We’re not creative enough. We’re not positive enough. We go on getting bad results, getting bad results. Sound familiar? Here’s a clue. On the evidence of the summer and these latest 90 minutes in the San Siro, football won’t be coming home to England this autumn.

Five games without a win. Relegated – even if it is only the UEFA Nations League. The manager booed after the final whistle by a contingent of the long-suffering away fans and the World Cup only 58 days away. And yet as David Baddiel and Frank Skinner penned in that albatross of an anthem 26 years ago, we know that play.

Moments from Jude Bellingham. Raheem Sterling when he got going, a bit of a cameo from Jack Grealish and Phil Foden’s vision. The venom of Harry Kane’s two shots when he did finally get half a glance at goal as England went in search of an equaliser. It is always easy to find the excuses.

After all, a 1-0 defeat to Italy in the San Siro, secured through a moment of individual brilliance by Giacomo Raspadori, seems a harsh way to be relegated. But with England, context is always far too convenient an excuse. Ours is the richest footballing country in the world and the FA will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the opening of St George’s Park in two weeks’ time.

That was supposed to be the game-changer. France won the World Cup exactly a decade after opening their own national centre in Clairefontaine and, brazenly, Greg Dyke set his countdown timer for Qatar 2022. Tick. Tock. Tick, Tock.

Just one game to play on Monday and with Southgate fielding a goalkeeper short of his strongest team tonight (give or take John Stones, more on that later), England still seem miles away. The back-three system looked stronger with Eric Dier back at its hub, fresh from the school of Antonio Conte.

But even with the extra man in defence, the whole system unravelled when Kyle Walker had one of his notorious lapses of concentration in the 68th minute and Raspadori compounded an exemplary first touch by shifting away from the Manchester City defender too easily and firing past Nick Pope.

Accidents are always going to happen at the back and for all the individual talent further up the field, they always seem a man light. Does Southgate have the courage against Germany to pick two from Dier, Stones and Harry Maguire and put England back on the front foot again as he said he needed to when they fell short at the last World Cup.

Astute man-management and attention to detail have healed English football since the debacle of Euro 2016, but the finishing touch has to be, well, the finishing. England showed none of that thrust in Milan, their only bright spell coming after the break. When a Reece James free-kick and Harry Kane ‘steal’ both came to nothing.

England’s one saving grace is they are at least to change things from the bench, with Jack Grealish causing late mischief. It meant England were indeed playing with Dier and Maguire as a central defensive pair, albeit one that narrowly failed to trap Manolo Gabbiadini offside.

Luckily, his shot was saved and Federico Dimarco fired the rebound against the base of the post to keep England in the game. Then in injury time, Bellingham headed narrowly over the bar from close range.

Those are the fine margins of international football. But right now they are adding up to that huge chasm that separates England from where Baddiel, Skinner and the rest of the nation all want them to be.

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