Yesterday England claimed an unconvincing 3-2 win against Slovenia in a Euro 2016 qualifier.
The victory meant that the Three Lions have gone a whole season without a defeat for the first time since 1991.
England dominated for most of the game and should have won by a higher margin. However, a major negative was the defensive display from the back four.
The back four of Phil Jones, Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling and Kieran Gibbs were unconvincing. The first Slovenia goal came when Milivoje Novakovic broke the offside trap to give the hosts the lead against the run of play.
The confusion in the England defence carried on throughout the game. The game produced more questions than answers for Roy Hodgson and what to do about his defence is one of the biggest conundrums.
One question that a lot of England fans will have been asking prior to the game would be why is Manchester United centre-back Phil Jones playing right-back. Southampton’s regular right-back Nathaniel Clyne was kicking his heels on the bench for the first half. He came on in the second half after Adam Lallana had replaced Jones at half-time and Jordan Henderson had been moved to right-back.
Although Clyne is not perfect and inexperienced at international level, he is a natural right-back and plays there on a regular basis. The 24-year-old also went into the game on the back of a superbly consistent campaign with the Saints.
Jones is versatile and has played there previously, but he just did not look comfortable. He is highly-rated by some, but at times I find myself asking when he is going to start fulfilling his potential. Maybe when he has established his preferred position he will start fulfil some of that supposed potential.
At left-back Kieran Gibbs did exact cover himself in glory on a rare international start. The 25-year-old had to take a portion of the blame for Slovenia’s second goal. His display will have done very little to convince Roy Hodgson that he should be a regular starter for the Three Lions.
Last season, Gibbs was not a regular starter for Arsenal, as he did some sort of 1980’s style job share with Spaniard Nacho Monreal. When everybody is fit both Everton’s Leighton Baines and Manchester United youngster Luke Shaw are in front of him in the left-back pecking order.
It could be argued that even Southampton full-back Ryan Bertrand should be ahead of him after enjoying a strong campaign with the Saints.
Then we get to the centre-backs. Cahill and Smalling do not look like they are on the same wavelength at all. Both players were culpable for the opening goal, but it was the Chelsea player who must take the majority of the blame.
Cahill does not seem to be the same player when he is not partnered by another commanding centre-back. He now has the experience at both club and international level to be a leader at the back for England. However, he does flatter to deceive when it comes to being dominant at the heart of the Three Lions defence.
Chris Smalling’s seemed to improve as a player last season, but again he is not a dominant centre-back who will boss opposition teams. Maybe under the guidance of veteran Dutch boss Louis van Gaal he can improve his game.
England currently have a dearth of quality centre-backs. Everton’s Phil Jagielka was dropped earlier this season because he went through a terrible loss of form. However, he regained his form towards the back end of the campaign. At 32-years-old he is hardly one for the future though.
One player who could provide England with a solution at centre-back is Jagielka’s Everton club-mate John Stones. The 21-year-old is currently away with the England under-21 squad preparing for the European Championships.
The former-Barnsley star is a Rolls Royce of a defender who looks to have every attribute to be a top-class player. No doubt he would have been involved with the full national team had he not been away with the under-21 team.
There were positives for Roy Hodgson and England to take from the performance, most of all Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere putting in a good display, capped with two superbly taken goals.
With qualification for Euro 2016 all-but sewn up, the England boss will now be looking at sorting out his defence. When the Three Lions come up against more illustrious opposition in France they will have to improve defensively or their stay at Euro 2016 will be a very short.
Can Roy Hodgson sort out England’s defensive problems?
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