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Analysis

Harry Kane struggles and Trent Alexander-Arnold experiment fails as Denmark draw shows England's problems

England's 1-1 draw with Denmark highlighted the mounting issues facing Gareth Southgate; Harry Kane again looked isolated up front despite scoring; Jude Bellingham showed signs of exhaustion; Trent Alexander-Arnold struggled in a disjointed midfield

Why are England dropping so deep?

John Stones and Declan Rice
Image: John Stones and Declan Rice show their frustration during the game

The result was different but there were obvious parallels with the Serbia game. Once again, a bright start was rewarded with an early goal. Once again, it was followed by the team ceding the initiative and sinking deeper and deeper into their own half.

This tendency to invite pressure is not new. It has been a curious feature of Gareth Southgate's tenure. But mostly it has occurred in knockout games against the big nations. Not in group-stage fixtures against sides sitting outside the top 20 in the FIFA rankings.

It is baffling that a group of players as good as this, a group regarded as favourites to win the tournament, can end up playing like an underdog in games such as these but that is the reality of what they served up, first against Serbia and now against Denmark.

Of course, that is not to say these are easy fixtures. Tournament football can be unforgiving. But the Denmark game was just the latest in which England have invited problems by inviting pressure. It led to Denmark's leveller and it could have been worse.

The statistics were alarming. Denmark, in addition to outshooting England, made slightly more passes and had slightly more of the ball. But consider, too, where they had it compared to England. Denmark had 22 touches in the opposition box to England's 11. They made 142 passes in the final third to England's 97.

It is not as though England lack the personnel to play higher up the pitch. In Kyle Walker and the excellent Marc Guehi, they have quick defenders able to sweep up behind a high line. Further forward, they have players drilled to play in exactly that way for their clubs.

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Why, then, does the same issue keep resurfacing? A degree of pragmatism is understandable at a tournament. But England are causing themselves unnecessary problems.

England sitting deep: What does the data say?

The graphic below summarises it perfectly: almost all outfield players averaged in their defensive third while they held their one-goal advantage for 16 minutes.

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The graphic below elaborates on how England retreated, revealing the swing of final-third passes during the game - with the Danes hitting a match-high level of dominance before their 34th-minute leveller.

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Image: Denmark were more dominant after England scored

Against Serbia, Southgate's side started the game wholly dominant, but that control ebbed incrementally after Jude Bellingham broke the deadlock, with the Serbs enjoying the lion's share of attacking threat after the break.

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Additionally, England are playing deeper than at previous tournaments, with four outfield players averaging in their own half at the World Cup in 2022 - rising to six at Euro 2024. The forwards - especially Harry Kane and Phil Foden - are also playing far deeper.

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Trent midfield experiment looks over

England's Trent Alexander-Arnold, center, shakes hands with manager Gareth Southgate after being substituted during a Group C match between Denmark and England at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Frankfurt, Germany, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Image: England's Trent Alexander-Arnold came off nine minutes after half-time

Rarely has a midfield containing so much talent looked as disjointed as this one.

Maybe that shouldn't be surprise given this was only the third time, after a 1-0 Nations League loss to Hungary in June 2022 and Sunday's opener against Serbia, that Declan Rice, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jude Bellingham have started a game together centrally.

Southgate's determination to get Alexander-Arnold into his line-up is of course understandable given the qualities he possesses. But is a major tournament the right place to trial a new-look midfield? On this evidence, the answer is an emphatic no.

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Rice, impressive but overworked against Serbia, was overrun on occasions this time, the gaps to Alexander-Arnold and Bellingham too great, with the former eventually sacrificed, making way for Conor Gallagher only nine minutes after half-time.

Gallagher does not possess the same level of vision and passing ability as Alexander-Arnold but he brought more energy and security alongside Rice. He will fancy his chances of starting against Slovenia. But England's midfield remains a major work-in-progress.

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Kaveh Solhekol feels England were lucky not to lose their match against Denmark and explains why Trent Alexander-Arnold's time in midfield may be over

Kane isolated and off it despite goal

Image: Harry Kane was withdrawn for Ollie Watkins in the second half

Harry Kane's goal, slotted home from close-range from Kyle Walker's deflected cut-back, made him only the third player to score for England at four different major tournaments along with Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney. But this was a tough afternoon for him.

As against Serbia, he was barely in the game. And when he did get on the ball, it was mostly as a result of dropping deep, into areas where he did more harm than good, as shown by the woefully misplaced pass from the left-back position which led to Denmark's goal.

Harry Kane's touches in the Serbia and Denmark games
Image: Harry Kane's touches in the Serbia and Denmark games

The problem, though, was that when he wasn't dropping deep, he cut an isolated figure upfield, too far away from England's defenders and midfielders to be a useful outlet.

The lack of support is something for Southgate to ponder as he prepares his team to face Slovenia but there are off-the-ball question marks over Kane too.

He looks tired after a long season with Bayern Munich which ended with a back injury. And even at his freshest, his pressing is not his strength. Ollie Watkins, his replacement in the second half, gave England more in that regard. Kane's spot is under scrutiny.

Bellingham shows signs of exhaustion

Jude Bellingham vs Denmark
Image: Jude Bellingham struggled in the draw with Denmark

Kane was just one of many England players who looked oddly fatigued against Denmark but Bellingham's lack of energy relative to the Serbia game stood out even more.

The 20-year-old appeared to put any questions of burnout to bed with his excellent individual display on Sunday but this game was a different story. There were glimpses of his brilliance, including an incisive through-ball to release Watkins late on. But not much more.

His exhaustion was summed up in the closing stages when, having been sold short by a poor Kyle Walker pass, he simply could not muster the energy to chase back, allowing Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg to charge forward and fire an effort narrowly wide.

It is hardly surprising if he is feeling jaded after an epic first season at Real Madrid which only finished with their Champions League final win over Real Madrid on June 1. But, given his importance, it will be difficult to grant him any rest until England's tournament is over.

Foden improves but left side remains blunt

Phil Foden
Image: Phil Foden delivered an improved performance against Denmark

This was a much better performance from Phil Foden after a hard-working but largely fruitless showing against Serbia. It was telling, though, that his best work, including one dancing dribble through midfield and several efforts on goal, came from central positions.

The 24-year-old had clearly been encouraged to drift infield but England's left-sided conundrum remains. With the right-footed Kieran Trippier playing as a makeshift left-back, Southgate's team carries precious little threat on that flank.

England have directed a far higher proportion of attacks down their right than their left
Image: England have directed a far higher proportion of attacks down their right than their left

The lopsided-ness is not an issue when England's right flank delivers as it did for Bellingham's goal against Serbia, set up by Bukayo Saka, and Kane's goal against Denmark, set up by Walker. But this level of reliance is surely not sustainable.

Luke Shaw is a huge miss. Southgate hinted that the 28-year-old, the only natural left-back in the squad, may not recover from his injury in time to feature in the group stage.

The worry is that, even when he is deemed fit, he will not have played a competitive fixture since February. Throwing him into the team for the knockout stages would carry obvious risks. The question is whether England's need on that side forces the decision.

Creativity badly lacking

England 1-1 Denmark
Image: Harry Kane shows his frustration after his poor pass led to Denmark's goal

England's performances so far have raised concerns over numerous individuals but their collective problems are arguably more concerning. The lack of creativity has been stark.

Southgate's side mustered a meagre total of only 0.52 expected goals in the Serbia game, a clear indication of the low quality of chances created. At 0.85, the number was not much higher against Denmark. The Danes were largely comfortable.

This issue is intertwined with their propensity to drop so deep. You cannot threaten the opposition goal if you don't get near it. But even when England do manage to get into dangerous positions, they are struggling to make them count.

And yet… the knockouts beckon

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Rob Dorsett delivers his verdict on England's 1-1 draw with Denmark

The hope for England fans is that, ultimately, none of this will matter. Southgate's side have taken four points from a possible six. They are on course to reach the knockout stages, however unconvincingly. Maybe they will begin to click after this inauspicious start.

But two games into a tournament in which they were heavily fancied to go the distance, the alarm bells are ringing loudly. There is much work to do if they are to live up to expectations, and a growing list of problems to overcome.

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