England’s national team has been on a stupefying European tour for some time under Gareth Southgate. They have been woeful at Wembley, lousy in Lithuania, murder in Malta and soporific in Slovenia and Slovakia.
Such has been the dearth of talent on display in England matches that the only bulk ticket sales have gone to charities fighting insomnia. Okay, that’s a joke but the apathy that surrounds the national team is extreme.
Their last match at home, a painful 1-0 win over Slovenia, was notable for fans amusing themselves by trying to land paper planes in the goal.
So it is to the credit – not often you get to say this – of the FA that they have tried to engender some spirit and excitement about England as they prepare for the summer World Cup in Russia. Friendlies against Germany (on Friday) and Brazil are supposed to be box office affairs, ones to get the pulses racing. After all, these are two of the most famous sides in the world and England have had some cracking contests against both consistently.
Any hope, however, that some excitement could be instilled in England appears to have been dashed. Six – yes, that many – senior England players have pulled out. It means that Southgate will pick a virtual reserve team.
There is no Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling, Harry Winks, Fabian Delph or Jordan Henderson. Now, Southgate won’t lose much sleep of the last three names on that list, apart from adding to the general sense of gloom, but he sure will about the first three.
Kane and Alli are England’s chief goal- and creative threats while Sterling offers much-needed penetration with his pace. England, horribly shot-shy even with those three available, could put the country in a coma as result.
It means Southgate has only three forwards to choose from and has a heavily depleted midfield. Jamie Vardy, who has struggled to look at home in the international arena, unproven Tammy Abraham of Swansea City and Marcus Rashford are the up-front options.
And you can really see the dearth of options available when Southgate has been forced to call up Ashley Young again. Their midfield, which could comprise Premier League also-rans like Jack Cork, Jesse Lingard and Jake Livermore, could be overrun by the world champs.
So we must back Germany to take the win, particularly as they have a reasonably strong squad to choose from. It includes Premier League stars like Ilkay Gundogan, Leroy Sane, Emre Can, Mesut Ozil. They ooze class whereas Englan ooze something altogether more unpleasant.