Oh England, it wouldn’t be you unless you followed up beating the number one ranked side in the world with a home defeat to Denmark, would it?
It can’t be unsaid that Harry Maguire’s sending off played a major role in the defeat, as the Manchester United captain’s two, if not three, counts of foolishness saw him sent for an early shower.
Up until that point, England had looked alright. There was zip to their passing and structure in midfield, and while their attacking play can be frightfully one-dimensional, they at least had the personnel to suit.
Down that right hand side, the Chelsea link up between Mason Mount and Reece James was asking enough meaningful questions of Denmark. With Mount willing to take the inside channel and allow Kyle Walker to either feed him infield or bomb forward to create space for James, the interchanging flowed well.
While Mount appeared at the sharpest he had been throughout the international break, it was James who really stood out. On either the overlap or underlap, he was excellent. Robert Skov, and even the covering Martin Braithwaite, were powerless to stop his bruising runs in behind, where he was a menace throughout the opening 30 minutes.
Naturally, his influence waned after the red card, but even more so with Gareth Southgate’s bizarre idea to shift him out to the left. Ainsley Maitland-Niles was the unfortunate casualty of Maguire’s sending off, but forcing the best player on the pitch to switch sides, having been such a threat, seemed wholly illogical.
Then, he changed his mind again in the second half, with Kyle Walker taking up left-back duties when the Three Lions switched to a back four. Yet, in among all of that, James continued to offer an outlet down the flank, coming short for possession when England were being overrun in midfield, or making a 40-yard sprint to offer a route out of danger when his side were wilting under the pressure.
His attacking attributes will earn plaudits from tonight, yet it is the overall package which has him high up the pecking order in Southgate’s endless list of right-back options.
Firstly, it’s key to note that Trent Alexander-Arnold is a better player, but when it comes to England and the 3-4-3 system, James is better suited. Really, he is.
First of all, playing a back five is for no other reason than the team being awash with poor defenders. None of them are especially decent, while the rest are totally hopeless.
The centre-backs need all the protection they can get, thus wing-backs are a necessity. In the case of Alexander-Arnold, very large Villa Park-shaped question marks linger with him in regards to defensive duties. As good as his crossing is, he isn’t anywhere near as good at stopping them.
Hence why James is a better fit. His engine is unrelenting, his choice of attacking runs both intelligent and well-timed, but he’s not to shabby at doing what his job role suggests, either. If anything, he’s actually rather solid.
Until England can coach their central defenders better – or simply find new ones – then persisting with the defensively disciplined James over Alexander-Arnold is the only viable option.