Changing Of The Guard: England's Centre-Back Issues Give Southgate A Problem

On the first Premier League weekend, several of England's centre-backs were sat on the bench
07:00, 09 Aug 2022

The opening weekend of the Premier League provided a whole host of stories, but there will have been an underlying concern for England manager Gareth Southgate. With the final international break ahead of the World Cup less than a month away, and with the tournament itself creeping up, the Three Lions have some concerns at centre-back.

Of the five centre-backs that were in the squad last summer for Euro 2020, only one of them started in his correct position. And that was Harry Maguire. John Stones was left on the bench for Manchester City, Ben White played at right-back for Arsenal and Tyrone Mings and Conor Coady were both dropped from the starting XI’s completely. 

Having lost the captaincy and his starting spot at Villa Park, Mings looks unlikely to make the World Cup squad, while Coady could play his way back in should he get a move to Everton. Stones should get gametime at City at some point and isn’t too much of a concern given his quality for England, but Maguire’s form is a red flag for an England manager who relies on consistency.


Upsetting the squad with huge changes at the back this close to a major tournament isn’t part of the plan, but Southgate doesn’t appear to have much choice if they are not getting gametime. Over the past two tournaments, this squad has made one semi-final and one final and it is the harmony amongst the England team that has contributed to this success. It’s the main thing Southgate has changed during his tenure and something he enjoys huge credit for. 

This also counts for players that don’t start in the major tournaments. Assistant manager Steve Holland called Coady “England’s player of the tournament so far” due to his contribution around the camp and that will work in his favour if he returns to form at Everton.

Eric Dier is making himself a key figure for Antonio Conte’s Spurs and could return to the fold after his 2018 heroics but there are also those untested names waiting in the wings. White you would think is a sure thing given his performances for Arsenal but if he can’t get in ahead of Gabriel and William Saliba then it is hardly ideal for England’s World Cup hopes. Fikayo Tomori is getting better and better for Italian champions AC Milan and should be included, but he only has three caps to his name and will need to gain more experience in the next international break.

Marc Guehi has made great progress and Crystal Palace and provides a solid option, but again he has only made three international appearances. There’s a realistic possibility that England could line up with a back three of White, Tomori and Guehi at the World Cup, a trio that have just ten caps between them. 

They aren’t bad players by any stretch but it is clearly a position of weakness for the Three Lions. Especially when you consider how strong this country has been at producing centre-backs. Terry Butcher, Tony Adams,  Sol Campbell, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry. This was so often the solid foundation that England relied on.

Yet in recent years, the quality has moved into the forward positions. Unlike in previous years, England have an abundance of creativity but now it is their defensive weakness that will be their Achilles' Heel.

In reality, despite the last two tournaments, England aren’t in a place to win this World Cup. They have overachieved under Southgate and now this tournament could see them return to the usual early knockout stage exit. The defenders that have experience aren’t playing. And the ones that are playing have promise, but the lack of experience could cost them, and Southgate himself, dear.

Suggested Searches:
The Sportsman
Manchester United
Manchester City
Premier League
Sportsman HQ
72-76 Cross St
Manchester M2 4JG
We will not ask you to provide any personal information when using The Sportsman website. You may see advertisement banners on the site, and if you choose to visit those websites, you will accept the terms and conditions and privacy policy applicable to those websites. The link below directs you to our Group Privacy Policy, and our Data Protection Officer can be contacted by email at: [email protected]

All original material is Copyright © 2019 by The Sportsman Communications Ltd.
Other material is copyright their respective owners.