A chief criticism levelled at England during decades of underperformance on the international stage has centred around the countrys failure to produce technically gifted footballers able to retain possession intelligently against their opponents.
Between 2008-12, Spain established themselves as the pre-eminent international force of their time, winning an unprecedented three successive major titles while playing an easy on the eye, possession-heavy brand of football.
In contrast, England toiled during this period. They missed out altogether at Euro 2008, were sent packing by a vibrant Germany at the World Cup in 2010 and lost to Italy on penalties in Euro 2012 after a game that yielded 36% possession and only nine shots to the Azzurris 35. That shootout result, ultimately, represented death by a thousand cuts.
Things have improved markedly since then, of course, with Gareth Southgates youthful side delivering a World Cup semi-final and an encouraging performance in the inaugural Nations League, all while trying to play in a more expansive, positive manner.
If there was one thing that England were crying out for during the World Cup in Russia, though, it was a creator. With Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard in the attacking midfield roles, England possessed intelligent runners and facilitators of space, but not a creative lock-picker.
Fortunately, for Southgate, a number of players possessing those specific attributes appear to be coming through. In his latest squad, for instance, there are two uncapped No.10s who have caught the eye in the opening weeks of the Premier League season: Leicester Citys James Maddison and Chelseas Mason Mount.
Both players have been involved in the senior setup previously to get a feel for the place yet this weeks upcoming matches represent an excellent chance for either or both to stake a claim ahead of Euro 2020, particularly with Alli absent after injury.
Southgate has talked up Mounts inclusion, saying that the Chelsea star is in on merit and that he has been one of the outstanding performers in the Premier League during the opening four weeks of the season, following goals against Leicester and Norwich.
Gareth Southgate on Mason Mount's inclusion
I think Mason has been one of the outstanding players in the league so far. This time in Masons case hes in on merit, he looks like threatening the goal every game he plays, Ive watched him develop through our youth teams since he was 16 – hes not in on the back of Chelsea, its on a year in the Eredivisie and at Derby.
Although Mounts Premier League career spans just four matches, he has clearly been on Southgates radar for a long time having been invited to train with the England squad before they jetted off for the World Cup off the back of a Player of the Season year at Vitesse Arnhem.
He has a mentality we really like – hes a super kid, Southgate said of his decision to invite Mount to train with the senior squad and he then went a step further by selecting him for games against Croatia in Spain in October off the back of a dozen matches in the Championship with Derby County.
Frank Lampard and Southgate have talked up Mounts personality and drive off the pitch, but it is clear to see why they are enamoured by his displays on it too, as his game revolves around a desirable mix of goalscoring threat and infectious work-rate.
A return of 25 goals and 13 assists in 74 league matches – a direct goal involvement (goal or assist) every 1.9 games – highlights Mounts ability to make an impact in the final third of the pitch, while his nine tackles this season – fourth in Chelseas squad – emphasises his industry out of possession.
Both of those qualities were emphasised perfectly when Mount scored his first senior goal for Chelsea against Leicester last month. Mount pressed Wilfred Ndidi on the edge of his own box, dispossessed him and then scored past Kasper Schmeichel with a well-taken finish.
Yet while you dont have to look particularly hard to find a positive quote from Southgate on Mount, it appears a much harder task with Maddison. When Southgate dramatically shook up his squad last October by introducing six uncapped players into his squad, it was Mount and Jadon Sancho he spoke of in glowing terms, rather than Maddison.
Maddison was left on the bench for both of those fixtures against Croatia and Spain and has had to wait almost a year for a recall, despite statistically being the most creative player in the Premier League in 2018-19. Explaining his absence last March, Southgate said: I think hes a No 10 and, at the moment, weve not been playing with a 10.
There were also murmurings last week that Southgate had been left unimpressed with Maddisons performances during Englands surprisingly below-par U21 European Championship campaign, with the Sun going as far as to say that he has serious misgivings about the Leicester star.
It is likely that is an oversimplification of the situation, borne out of Southgates decision not to pick him during the second half of last season, but Maddison seemingly has had to work harder than some to earn his place in the squad. Based on his performances this season, though, Southgate simply couldnt leave him out.
Ever since his £20m move to Leicester to Norwich, Maddison has looked like he has belonged in the Premier League, but in the opening weeks of the campaign, he has looked even more self-assured in his own ability than previously, taking on greater responsibility in Brendan Rodgers side.
Chances created by English players in the Premier League (2019-20))
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)14Callum Wilson (Bournemouth)9James Maddison (Leicester City)9Jack Grealish (Aston Villa)8Todd Cantwell (Norwich City)8Mason Mount (Chelsea)8
During a madcap second half at Stamford Bridge, Maddison ran the game as well as supplying the assist for Ndidis equaliser from a corner. It was his pass for Jamie Vardys opener against Sheffield United, though, that encapsulated his playmaking qualities as he swept a wonderful first-time, outside of the boot pass into space for his teammate to run into.
When you consider that Phil Foden – a player whom Pep Guardiola rather unhelpfully said was the most talented player he has worked with last month – Read More – Source