A penny for Harry Winks’ thoughts as he watched England v Kosovo descend into the type of free-flowing havoc usually reserved for a testimonial jolly.
Two months ago, in the wake of Frenkie De Jong’s Nations League semi-final masterclass, Winks was marked out as the man to bring calm to England’s all-too-often frantic and disjointed midfield.
De Jong was the puppet master as Declan Rice, Fabian Delph and Ross Barkley chased shadows down blind alleys, only to be hoodwinked into another wrong turn by a body feint, first-time pass or switch of play.
And yet, as England and Kosovo traded punches like weary heavyweights in the 12th round, Winks, who has started every Premier League fixture for Spurs this season, remained on the bench.
When Southgate eventually turned to his reserves after 83 minutes of madness, it was attacking midfielder Mason Mount who was called forth to enter the chaos.
Minutes later, as the seconds ticked down on England’s 5-3 win, Marcus Rashford was summoned to inject pace into a game already resembling the Monaco Grand Prix.
It begs the question, do England even want to produce the ‘next Frenkie De Jong’?
None of England’s five goals against Kosovo were the result of patient build-up.
Centre-backs played a starring role in the first three goals, with Ben Chilwell’s corner eventually headed home by Raheem Sterling for the first and Harry Maguire passing from front to back for the second and third.
The fourth goal was the result of a rapid transition following a turnover in midfield, freeing Jadon Sancho to score his second of the night, as was the fifth, with Chilwell releasing Sterling in space.
Despite finishing the game with 58% possession to Kosovo’s 42%, England posed more danger when they didn’t have the ball.
Jordan Henderson and Rice had 75 and 77 touches of the ball respectively, less than Kosovo’s main schemer Besar Halimi. Were De Jong wearing an England shirt, for much of the night he’d have been a passenger.
For all England’s possession- Southgate’s side racked up 657 passes compared to Kosovo’s 471- Henderson and co only played six more ‘key passes’ than their Kosovan counterparts.
Getting England’s devastating crop of dribblers, namely Sterling, Sancho, Rashford and Callum Hudson-Odoi, in one-on-one situations with defenders as quickly as possible negates the need for a possession-based brand of football.
Sterling alone completed two more successful dribbles than Kosovo’s entire team. England as a whole completed 21 dribbles to Kosovo’s seven.
The longer England hold onto possession, the more time the opposition have to get into a compact defensive formation.
England may well struggle to produce a Frenkie De Jong, or even half a Frenkie De Jong, in the future.
But the blistering pace and cage-conjured imagination of England’s wide players, combined with Kane’s impeccable hold-up play, means the need for a controlling midfielder isn’t as pressing as it would have been in years gone by.
Sure, Southgate wouldn’t kick De Jong out of an England shirt were he to inexplicably qualify for residency, but he won’t be cursing his luck at Mr and Mrs De Jong’s choice of labour ward either.
England have bundles of the most feared products in football- pace and trickery. Sit back and enjoy the chaos.
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