England’s problems continued to mount ahead of the World Cup last night after they crashed to a 1-0 defeat against Italy in Milan. Giacomo Raspadori’s 68th minute strike made it five games without a win for Gareth Southgate’s stuttering side who were relegated from Division One of the Nations League as a result.
It is England’s worst run for eight years and leaves them facing Germany on Monday at Wembley – in what will be their final match before Qatar – in desperate need of a morale-boosting win over their arch-rivals.
England’s winless run goes on and the defensive questions intensify but at least Harry Maguire delivered on Southgate’s blind loyalty in the San Siro. It was an evening where, with so little club football under his belt, Maguire could easily have been exposed and his place on the plane to Qatar put under even more pressure.
With no club form to go on, the England manager was left trusting that it would be alright on the night for his centre-back back in an international shirt.
The situation at Manchester United, with Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez the first-choice pairing, has left both Maguire and Southgate with a problem that will not go away on the back of one game but he kept his head above water to pay back his manager’s trust.
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Prada have caused a stir at Milan fashion week by deliberately stitching in creases to their creations. In a sketchy opening five minutes across town at the San Siro it looked as if Southgate had done something similar with the England defence.
The fault lines in the new three-man rearguard showed up clearly as, with John Stones suspended, the Maguire/Dier element of the axis started shakily.
Maguire was left clawing at the departing Giovanni Di Lorenzo in the third minute only to be rescued by the offside flag and then was outjumped by Gianluca Scamacca at the far post as the Italian striker brought Nick Pope into action for the first time.
Alongside, Dier was hesitant. But as the half wore on Maguire, who had been greeted with a throaty chorus of his England theme song ahead of kick-off by the travelling fans, produced a well-timed tackle on Nicolo Barella to nip an Italian counter-attack in the bud.
It had to be spot on given the fussiness of referee Jesus Gil Manzano over any sort of contact and it was. England were again thankful to Maguire for his intervention on Giacomo Raspadori after half time.
As it turned out it was actually the third cog in the defensive wheel, Kyle Walker, who was to blame for standing off Raspadori when the little Italian fired his side into the lead. It topped off an eminently forgettable night for the Manchester City man and England.
England have plenty of problems to solve and the Maguire issue remains a live one but he may be one of the few England players to come away from Milan feeling better about himself.
With no club form to go on, Maguire just about kept his head above water but the situation at Manchester United, with Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez the first-choice pairing, has left both Maguire and Southgate with a problem that will not go away on the back of one game. It is just one headache of many for England.