Questions remain for England ahead of Euro 2020 kick-off

OVER many years, Yorkshire folk have cultivated a reputation for tenacity, resilience and character.

In bygone days, it was also said that if any football manager required a stout centre-half worth his salt, all he had to do was whistle down a mine shaft in the Broad Acres and one would arrive up in the next cage.

Doing the same in a north-east colliery would see a centre-forward jump out. While in the Welsh pits, legend has it that a quick whistle would see a rugby union pack soon appear.

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The days of coal mines have sadly long gone, but Yorkshire’s reputation for defensive talent still represents a rich seam.

HARRY MAGUIRE: Questions remain over the central defenders fitness ahead of Euro 2020. Picture: Ian Walton/PA Wire.

England’s senior defensive trio of Barnsley’s John Stones and Sheffield-born duo Harry Maguire and Kyle Walker hail from the coalfield county of South Yorkshire – a place of steel as well.

How England will need that latter quality at the European Championships which will see them take the field on home soil.

As has been the Three Lions’ wont in recent times, they head into a tournament with more questions than answers.

They face their second warm-up friendly at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium tomorrow against Romania.

PREPARATIONS: England's Jordan Henderson warms up on the pitch ahead of the International Friendly at The Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough. Picture: Lindsey Parnaby/PA Wire.

Seven days later, it will be the real thing at home to Croatia at Wembley Stadium in their first Group D game at the championships.

It remains to be seen if Manchester United captain Maguire, who has been out for almost a month with damaged ankle ligaments, features in the opener with the Croats, while the availability of Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson is another serious issue to contend with.

Before that, England face the Romanians. A positive sign-off performance would be nice, but avoiding the perils of injury is just as important, heightened by the midweek loss of right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold, who has been ruled out of the tournament after picking up a thigh injury in Wednesday’s friendly against Austria on Teesside.

Alexander-Arnold, whose place in Gareth Southgate’s 26-man squad had been a topic of hot conversation since the announcement, took to Twitter to express his heartbreak at the situation, simply writing: “Absolutely gutted.”

MANAGER: England boss Gareth Southgate. Picture: Lindsey Parnaby/PA Wire.

The Liverpool defender had been previously omitted for a World Cup qualification triple-header in March.

He returned to the provisional 33-man squad last week and made the cut for the Euros as one of four right-backs alongside Kieran Trippier, Walker and Reece James.

But now Southgate must decide who to draft in to replace him, with standby players Ben Godfrey, Ben White, James Ward-Prowse, Jesse Lingard and Ollie Watkins in contention.

With concerns over the fitness of Maguire, opting to bring in another central defender may well be viewed as a pragmatic option, with England seeming more well catered when it comes to options further forward.

Godfrey and White – who did not originally make the cut from the provisional squad of 33 – both made their debuts on Wednesday night.

York-born Godfrey, a regular for the under-21s, offers versatility across the back line, while White – who excelled at Leeds United in their promotion campaign – is able to slot into a back three or four and can also play as holding midfielder.

The replacement for Alexander-Arnold will ultimately take care of itself, but given the lack of international experience in the heart of the defence, Southgate will be particularly anxious that Maguire’s final stages of recovery goes smoothly.

In a four-man defence, the central axis of Maguire and Stones, who boast 32 and 42 caps respectively, pretty much picks itself to most observers. At 28 and 26 respectively, they are at a good ‘tournament age’ as well.

Even accounting for Stones’ propensity for the odd glitch and Maguire’s susceptibility against true pace, the pair, in most people’s eyes, are still viewed as the best fit as it stands.

With the likelihood being that England would pick three central defenders in a game against one of the leading European nations, that is also strong argument for choosing Walker, who has 52 caps, as the third centre-half, given his seniority.

In an offensive sense, the talents of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Mason Mount, Jack Grealish and Phil Foden in particular are players who would not look out of place in the squads of the leading nations.

It is England’s collective mindset under pressure where there is more room for concern, more especially given the nation’s awful record in terms of holding onto leads, although it is something that is pretty historic.

England have taken the lead in each of their past five tournament knockout games and won only once, against Sweden in the World Cup of 2018.

Since the start of the century, England have won only 13 out of 26 games when scoring first at a tournament, which is comfortably the worst record of any major nation.

Game management and concentration will be thrown into focus again. Southgate’s current worry will revolve around injury and availability, but his players wising up in terms of mentality when the heat is on at tournament time will be nagging away at him deep down.

It is why the sight of Maguire and Henderson, key figures at the two biggest clubs in the country, coming through unscathed in the final week of a build-up which has been far from straightforward is important. Moreso than tomorrow, in truth.

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