Robbed of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling, Gareth Southgate is without his first-choice forward line for the upcoming glamour friendlies against Germany and Brazil.
What had been sold as England testing themselves against the top two in the FIFA rankings is now being described in some national newspapers as “a farce” instead.
But is there still something that Southgate and England can learn from these matches? We take a look with the help of Paul Merson…
Southgate will trust that the Tottenham duo of Kane and Alli do not need too much time to work on their combination play in any formation, but he will want to see whether his defenders can make the 3-4-3 formation work against top quality opposition.
Gary Cahill, Phil Jones and John Stones are all in the squad and while they have experience playing in the system at club level, this is an opportunity to see if some of the key defenders can make it work together. Will it be a confidence-boosting – or shredding – experience?
It is a good formation but I don’t see how we’re going to outpass teams so I think we need bodies in the middle. We’re not the strongest at the back either but we’ve also got two great wing-backs in Kyle Walker and Danny Rose. Because of that, I like 3-5-2.
That way you get two forwards and another midfielder getting forward. Gareth played a lot of games in that system when we were at Villa. We didn’t win anything but we reached a cup final and were top of the league for a bit, so he’s played that way and knows it works.
The number of withdrawals means opportunities for others and there are no fewer than five uncapped players in Southgate’s squad. Jordan Pickford is waiting for his senior debut, while there are call-ups for Joe Gomez, Jack Cork, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Tammy Abraham too.
Given the strength of opposition, a strong debut performance from any of the above players could propel them into the frame for a World Cup place in Russia next summer. But not everyone is convinced that opportunity knocks for these youngsters…
I like Abraham and I like Cork as well but I just would not throw them in against Germany and Brazil. People say that you have got to see them up against these top players but you do not want that to be their debut.
You saw Ryan Shawcross’s international career end very quickly when he came up against Zlatan Ibrahimovic in his very first game. That was unfair on him as how many times do you come up against players of that calibre? I worry for the debutants, to be honest.
Key absences add to the sense that these friendlies have little meaning but could the results still shape the national mood ahead of next year’s World Cup? Beating Germany or Brazil at Wembley without the star names would soon spark thoughts of something special in Russia.
However, a heavy defeat or two would be a sobering reminder in a year of unprecedented success for England’s age-group sides that there remains a gulf at the top of the senior game. Southgate, like his old Aston Villa and England team-mate, will surely be wary…
You’ve got six players out, five of them probably starters, so I don’t know what we get out of these games now. England are usually fantastic at friendlies, if there was a friendly World Cup then we’d win it, but the circumstances make these two fixtures dangerous.
You don’t want to get beaten four or five nil and I just don’t think it’s fair on these lads to throw them in now, so I’d go with as many tried and tested players as possible, the ones he knows will be going to the World Cup, rather than risking destroying the confidence of young lads.