England are still more potential than delivery; Harry Kane cannot be our only plan

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Mason Mount misses a chance for England Credit: PA Images
Mason Mount misses a chance for England Credit: PA Images

Before the game against Germany, Leon Osman said England have the strongest squad in Europe. This has become established as a basic truth. But do we really?

Much has been made of all the talent at Gareth Southgate’s disposal. Indeed, it’s been used as a stick to beat him with by those who feel his managerial style is too defensive; he is stifling these great creative players, so goes the argument. But if you were putting together a Best European XI, how many England players would get in that team? Do we have the best player in Europe in any position?

Because when you look at the squad for these Nations League games, it looks big on potential but light on delivery. Packed with really good Premier League players, sure, and yes, many are very expensive (though that is less a reflection of elite quality and more of the insane economics of English football). But that’s where it ends.

Last year there was a clamour for Jack Grealish to start every game, but that died away after some ineffective performances and while he’s sometimes been exciting as an impact substitute, I don’t think anyone would say he has yet lived up to his potential or anywhere near it.

Rating the players as England hit back to draw 1-1 in Germany

We have the usually excellent Harry Kane, who luckily enough now seems to be two players rolled into one, but we don’t have a second striker anywhere near his quality. Tammy Abraham has played well in Italy and scored plenty, but he hasn’t impressed internationally, admittedly in just 10 appearances across five years. He could come good for England, but he hasn’t yet. Jarrod Bowen has had a good season and deserves his chance but is he really the future of England’s strikeforce? Maybe but it is all still potential at the moment. We’re still waiting for Phil Foden to put together a string of really impressive games for England. He may well do, he’s still very young, but again, it is still all potential more than consistent delivery.

England vs Germany Credit: PA Images
England vs Germany Credit: PA Images

We don’t yet appear to have better central defenders than Harry Maguire and John Stones, which is concerning. Fikayo Tomori and Marc Guéhi may eventually be better, but have yet to prove themselves at international level. They also remain in the potential column.

We know the likes of Jude Bellingham, Conor Gallagher, Mason Mount and Bukayo Saka have looked good for their clubs and have impressed in spells for England, but once again, that is some distance from being a consistently excellent international player. Mount in particular looks adrift too often. Bellingham is still so young but does look excellent.

We’re stronger in the full-back positions in attacking terms, but how good are they defensively? Kyle Walker struggled on Tuesday against Jamal Musiala and along with Kieran Trippier, found the intensity of Germany’s pressing game hard to deal with. They are England’s oldest players.

What would England’s starting XI be if it was picked on market value alone?

Of course England do have some superb players, such as Kane and Rahem Sterling, but is there really any proven depth to the squad? When Southgate paired Kalvin Phillips and the excellent Declan Rice he hit upon a combination that worked really well together. There’s no reason why it can’t or won’t again, injuries allowing, but again, we’re still talking about potential, about what could be, especially after Phillips had to go off on Tuesday. They could be a fixture for the next eight years, or it might just have been a summer 2021 romance that won’t click again. Again, that is yet to be clear.

If you look at the team sheets for France, Portugal, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands, I’m not sure you could say their squads are worse than England’s by almost any measure.

It is very much to Southgate’s credit that he’s made lots of good players into a greater-than-the-sum-of-their-parts resilient team that has been close to winning the Euros and got to the semi-finals of the World Cup. But in the joy that those tournaments brought England fans, it would be a mistake to think that this was achieved with a world-class, deep squad.

Obviously, as Manchester United have shown us, great teams are not a collection of the very best players, but there’s only so long we can get by on potential. If the best players can begin to deliver consistently high standards, while the rest fit into an efficient team structure, England can be successful, but right now, it doesn’t look as though England are getting any better, rather they still look like a work in progress. The Germany game was a typical expression of that. It was fantastic, often exciting entertainment and England finished well but had been under the cosh for long stretches. They were not able to dominate Germany except in short spells.

So how many English players would be in that all-star European XI? Maybe two, maybe just one, maybe none. That is the measure of how well Southgate has done to date. We know in spells England can play excellent football, however, we need far more players to live up to their full potential and all at the same time, if we are to consistently beat the best sides and for us to feel confident they can do so in a tournament.

The article England are still more potential than delivery; Harry Kane cannot be our only plan appeared first on Football365.com.

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