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How can England’s midfield improve against Spain and Croatia?

| 09.10.2018

They face a big Nations League test

There have been plenty of encouraging signs for England under Gareth Southgate, but they’re still a long way from the finished product.

The Three Lions struggled to cope with Croatia’s passing in their World Cup semi-final defeat. They had similar issues in their 2-1 loss to Spain at Wembley last month too.

The midfield trio of Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard has plenty of energy and movement, but they struggle to keep hold of possession against the very best.

Now Southgate has a chance to see how his side have progressed. They’re 17/10 to beat Croatia when they meet in Nations League action on Friday, before taking on Spain again next Monday. The England boss is without Alli and Lingard, so the Coral News Team have looked at how he could set up in midfield…

Double pivot

Croatia possess two of the world’s best central midfielders in Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. Spain can take their pick from Sergio Busquets, Thiago Alcantara, Koke and Saul.

England don’t have those riches in the middle of the park, which means they’re unlikely to dominate the ball against these two sides.

Southgate could compromise on his attacking principles for these two games and field Eric Dier alongside Henderson for extra defensive protection. But that could lead to the side getting stuck in their own half, facing waves of pressure.

Look to the future

The England boss has been very keen to bring more of the talented youngsters coming through into the senior set-up.

He could give James Maddison and Mason Mount their debuts in these games. Both players like to get on the ball and makes things happen.

But neither of them have been tested at the very highest level yet. And he could be throwing them in at the deep end here.

There’s a genuine risk of England failing to get any points from their three Nations League games after these two fixtures, which means Southgate isn’t likely to start Maddison or Mount just yet.

Bring in Barkley

Ross Barkley’s bright start to the season sees him back in the England squad for the first time since March 2017. After shaking off his injury issues, he looks like he’s beginning to fulfil his potential at Chelsea.

If Jordan Henderson plays in the holding role, Barkley can provide the link to the attack. The former Everton star has the ability to carry the ball and pick a pass.

Harry Winks could be the ideal player to knit everything together in between them. He likes to keep things ticking over in central areas. The Tottenham Hotspur star won’t be daunted against world-class opponents either – he starred in Spurs’ win over Real Madrid last term and impressed against Barcelona earlier this month.

A trio of Henderson, Winks and Barkley has a nice blend of physical and technical qualities. Winks and Barkley don’t have the goal threat of Alli and Lingard, but they’re more comfortable at building play and should do more to help win the ball back.

Will it be enough to beat two very strong sides? It’s all to play for now.

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Daniel Anwar

Daniel has written about sport for Coral, Squawka, FourFourTwo and the Premier League, among others.