Are England improving? Sunday Supplement panel debate after Euro 2020 qualifying loss
England beaten 2-1 in Czech Republic on Friday; face Bulgaria on Monday at 7.45pm
Last Updated: 13/10/19 4:11pm
Gareth Southgate may be trying to play down expectations on his England team but they have failed to progress as they should have done since reaching the World Cup semi-finals in 2018.
That's the view of Shaun Custis, Head of Sport at The Sun, who told Sunday Supplement that rather than moving on an upward curve towards a tilt at the Euro 2020 title, England have worrying problems to deal with after their 2-1 defeat to Czech Republic on Friday night.
Southgate had said 'there is a lot of work to be done to be a really top team'.
- Sunday Supplement podcast
- Czech Republic 2-1 England - match report and highlights
- Euro 2020 Qualifiers: Fixtures and scores | Tables | Live on Sky
"After the World Cup, we're entitled to have an expectation that England might win the next Euros," said Custis.
"There weren't that many players in the team that got to the semi-finals that you thought would be over the hill by the time the next tournament came around, therefore you would expect progression and improvement.
"But it looks like regression, and that has caught people out.
"England have gone backwards. They were in a World Cup semi-final in 2018. We lost, but there was so much hope with Gareth Southgate and the fans.
"With Euro 2020 virtually at home, we thought we'd have a great chance of winning it.
There is a worry around England that this is quite a big wobble.
Shaun Custis, The Sun
"Now it seems like England have completely lost their direction; players are out of form for their clubs, the back four is all over the place and Southgate has ditched his preferred 3-5-2 formation.
"It's the hope that kills you with England, it's always been like that. Hope was so built up by that semi-final appearance that I really did believe we would go on.
"It's only the first qualifying defeat in 10 years, and actually if you go back to that Ukraine defeat in 2009 it was a dead rubber, so it's in fact the first meaningful defeat since Croatia in 2007.
"You are allowed a bad night at the office, but after conceding goals to Kosovo it's probably two bad performances [in a row].
"There is a worry around England that this is quite a big wobble.
"I'm sure they will beat Bulgaria on Monday and get through, but Southgate has always urged a degree of caution that we won't live up to the expectations from 2018."
'England have punched above their weight'
David Maddock, Northern Football Correspondent at the Daily Mirror, took a different view and suggested the reaction to England's defeat had been over the top, given the quality of players Southgate actually has to choose from.
"There is an overreaction to the defeat in Prague because the expectations have been built up," said Maddock.
"England under Southgate have punched well above their weight, to reach a semi-final was a great achievement for a team that you wouldn't class as a semi-final side.
The reality is that England have a lot of world-class forwards, but they don't have world-class defenders.
David Maddock, Daily Mirror
"The reality is that England have a lot of world-class forwards, but they don't have world-class defenders.
"They didn't have those defenders in 2018 but they had a system that masked problems and worked well with the midfield.
"None of the defenders are world-class and that's the problem. There are a lot of talented young players in and around the squad, and Southgate is putting the future in their hands with opportunities, but maybe they are not quite ready.
"Jordan Henderson fitted in brilliantly into the 2018 side, he did his job to perfection, but really he doesn't have the players around him that bring out the best in him whereas he does at Liverpool.
"He is the ultimate professional and his experience will be important for England next year. But there is a lack of quality in the midfield, there is no real creativity.
"The biggest problem with England is that both centre-halves are out of form. Michael Keane has lost confidence and the same applies to Harry Maguire, he said so himself.
"England went into the Czech Republic game with two centre-halves in a flat back four, and both of them are out of form and out of confidence. That is not the level you can get away with in international football."
England now go to Bulgaria in Sofia on Monday night at 7.45pm, which you can follow on SkySports.com and the Sky Sports app.
Czech Republic host Northern Ireland in a friendly on Monday at 6pm, live on Sky Sports Football and Main Event.
Watch England highlights for free on Sky Sports
Watch highlights of all of England's eight European Qualifiers for free with Sky Sports - including Bulgaria vs England on Monday night.
The best bits from each game will be available on skysports.com, the Sky Sports app and the Sky Sports Football YouTube channel from 15 minutes after full-time - and you won't need a Sky Sports subscription to tune in.