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England draw a blank after failing to find cutting edge

Denmark 0 England 0

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Drab affair: England’s Harry Kane and Denmark’s Mathias Jorgensen battle for the ball

Drab affair: England’s Harry Kane and Denmark’s Mathias Jorgensen battle for the ball

PA

Drab affair: England’s Harry Kane and Denmark’s Mathias Jorgensen battle for the ball

England fall behind Belgium in the Nations League group, but a more pressing concern is whether they are falling behind the major nations in terms of approach.

This was the major question from a mostly drab 0-0 draw with Denmark, of otherwise minor consequence and strange context. It would be nice to win the Nations League, of course, but the nature of the competition means it is largely rife for experimentation. This, however, is one of the issues.

It doesn't so much feel like Gareth Southgate is experimenting, as trying to work out his best team - especially his best midfield. He looks no closer to solutions. There are genuine questions there, not least regarding the cautious mindset of the line-ups, and some of the selections.

The biggest is whether Southgate will put out a team that actually makes this hugely talented squad any way better than the sum of their parts. It is no idle question, either.

Southgate has been immensely impressive in many parts of this job. The tactical aspect, however, is one that fosters doubt.

The approach at kick-off certainly didn't foster coruscating football.

Even allowing for experimentation, it's difficult to know what Southgate saw in England's starting formation. The problems were obvious on paper, and purely tactical. The biggest was that immense gap between the midfield two and the front three. Issues spread out from there.

Although the starting central duo of Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice was predictably pedestrian, it might have worked if there was a real playmaker in front of them. He eventually brought two on, in debut boy Jack Grealish and Mason Mount. That was only after a whole lot of nothing.

Harry Kane is said to fancy himself as more of a No.10 than a striker, which made it all the more curious that he spent so much of the game so far forward. That had the effect of pushing Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho further wide, to occasionally get in the way of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Kieran Trippier. And those names raise the side question of why he selected three right-backs but no left-back.

The next was why the line-up as a whole had so many defensive-minded players, against a team England are better than.

Instead, it was mostly Denmark with the better of the play.

Yussuf Poulsen and Kasper Dolberg both went close, as Denmark were capable of working the ball into the box. England could do no such thing.

There was one moment when, with nothing on, Jordan Pickford shrugged and punted the ball forward to Sterling. Sterling naturally couldn't do much with it, lost the ball, and shrugged back.

Southgate persisted well into the second half, until the clarity of the problem eventually became as painful. Mount was belatedly brought on for Sancho.

It was entirely logical that was when England finally started to work better positions. Kane headed over, before finally bringing an actual save from Kasper Schmeichel, and then having a late shot cleared off the line.

Denmark: Schmeichel, Wass, M Jorgensen, Christensen, Skov, Norgaard (Hojbjerg, 73 mins), Eriksen, Delaney, Poulsen, Dolberg (Falk Jensen, 76 mins), Braithwaite (Kjaer, 82 mins).

Subs not used: Andersen, Vestergaard, Maehle Pedersen, Dalsgaard, Lossl, Christiansen, Bruun Larsen, Cornelius, Ronnow.

England: Pickford, Gomez, Coady, Dier, Alexander-Arnold (Maitland-Niles, 87 mins), Rice, Phillips (Grealish, 76 mins), Trippier, Sancho (Mount, 60 mins), Kane, Sterling.

Subs not used: Mings, Pope, Keane, Ward-Prowse, Abraham, Ings, Henderson.

Referee: Istvan Kovacs (Romania).

Belfast Telegraph