England need a controlling midfielder to hit new heights
By Joe Harker
England's first Nations League game ended in a 2-1 defeat to Spain. A brilliant pass from Luke Shaw set up Marcus Rashford for the opening goal but Spain responded two minutes with a goal from Saul Niguez, followed by a Rodrigo goal after 32 minutes. Danny Welbeck had a goal ruled out late on for fouling David Ge Gea, though the referee was later slated by Harry Kane for "bottling it" over the decision.
While England may wonder what might have been had some decisions gone differently the defeat outlined something clearly lacking from the Three Lions, a midfielder capable of controlling the game.
Gareth Southgate admitted his side have a "non existent" record against superior teams and stressed that they were still in the early stages of development.
Perhaps this is why Southgate was willing to bend his own rule about picking players who appear regularly for their club in the case of Adam Lallana. Though the player was ruled out through injury his inclusion in the squad seemed at odds with Southgate's decision that England players had to be making regular appearances at club level.
The manager clearly knows that his team lacks such a player, having called up Harry Winks back in qualifying to do a similar job. Without Lallana or Winks for the World Cup, Southgate was forced to bypass his own midfield on occasion.
Independent writer Miguel Delaney observed that this approach was given a reality check against Spain and will continue to fall apart against the top teams in international football. The Three Lions could have done with borrowing one of Thiago, Saul, Isco or Busquets from Spain.
Luckily for England there are some promising candidates for the midfield controller role. Watford's Will Hughes has gained praise this season for his contribution to the perfect start the Hornets have enjoyed. His talents have caused many to think he deserves a chance to prove himself in the national team, particularly as he looks suited to the position Southgate needs to fill.
There is more hope that England will soon produce more players capable of controlling a game in the near future. The under 21 squad has some talented prospects who could grow into the type of midfielder Southgate needs and it will benefit the English game if they are the first in a long line of more technically gifted players. The defeat to Spain underlined how important they will be for the Three Lions when they get the chance.