England’s 2022 World Cup qualification is underway without any hiccups after back-to-back wins over San Marino and Albania with an aggregate score of 7-0.
Portugal, France and Belgium have all failed to take six points from a possible six in the European pool so the Three Lions have every reason to feel content.
And yet there are grumbles of dissent among the fans.
Gareth Southgate has frequently been labelled ‘negative’ and ‘overly cautious’ by his compatriots in recent times and a comfortable win over the world’s lowest-ranked nation hasn’t done much to alleviate such complaints.
The phrase ‘two CDMs’ was trending on Twitter during England’s 2-0 win over Albania as many expressed their annoyance at Southgate’s decision to play both Declan Rice (£2.5m) and Kalvin Phillips (£1.5m) when perhaps just one defensive midfielder would have sufficed in the long grass.
Some believe England should unleash as many of their talented attacking options as possible, harnessing their strength rather than worrying about their weakness.
However, those calling for a midfield three of Mason Mount (£3.5m), Jack Grealish (£4.5m) and James Maddison (£4.1m) (or some such variant) are just as misguided as Southgate when he deployed Rice, Phillips and Jordan Henderson (£1.6m) — imbalance works both ways.
To illustrate this, take a look at the best possible England XI based on this season’s Dream Team stats.
Do you see the problem?
Since Dream Team stats are determined by goals, assists, impressive performances, etc, some would think a team produced by this methodology would be highly impressive.
But real football does not work like fantasy football, and that’s what a lot of England fans seem to be forgetting.
The team above would not work in a practical situation.
It’s likely they would be overrun in midfield because the collective defensive awareness of Foden, Mount and Harvey Barnes (£2.9m) is almost non-existent.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£4.2m) does not have the attributes to play as a wide forward and yet we had to include him because he has the second-most Dream Team points of all English players in 2020/21.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka (£3.9m) and Barnes are also playing out of position.
Certainly Southgate has been overly cautious at times – the defeat to Denmark in the Nations League stands out – but the fact is England’s defence is vulnerable.
The likes of Rice, Phillips and Henderson are necessary to compensate for question marks at centre-back and a rotating cast of full-backs.
How many defensive midfielders are required depends on the situation and it’s true that Rice would probably have marshalled Albania on his own but maybe Southgate wants his players to gets as many minutes under their belt with a double pivot as possible — is he already thinking about the knockout stages of the European Championship?