WHERE is the midfield maverick the Three Lions need in Qatar to unlock some of the world’s best-drilled defences?
And why does Gareth Southgate stubbornly refuse to select an in-form James Maddison — statistically the most creative and effective midfielder England has?
Gary Lineker took to Twitter after England’s defeat against Italy on Friday night to issue a barbed comment aimed at the England boss.
The Match of the Day presenter wrote: “A gentle reminder that England’s most creative midfielder, (James Maddison) was not in the squad of 28.”
Instead, Southgate pinned his hopes on a midfield duo of Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice.
And looked to get maximum width from the likes of flying full-backs Reece James on the right and England’s Player of the Year, Bukayo Sako, on the left despite the fact he is currently operating as a right winger for his club.
Ahead of them Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling did their best, as did Jack Grealish and Luke Shaw when they came off the bench.
But it was all so predictable and it was little wonder England were relegated and are now regarded as a second-tier ‘B’ nation when it comes to the Nations’ League.
Grealish is the go-to poster boy for England but, as Graeme Souness pointed out, he is too often mugged in possession and wins plenty of fouls without actually winning too many games.
Southgate’s Lions are more toothless than ruthless these days and Friday’s latest struggle in the San Siro clocked up 450 minutes without a goal from open play.
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In Qatar, England will face Iran, the USA and Wales.
There is every chance they will be confronted by two banks of defenders with a rigid midfield four patrolling in front of a blanket back five.
If Southgate relies on his wingers for supply they are likely to be confronted by a double bank of full-backs protected by wide midfielders, with orders to force the ball into a midfield which will be busier than Oxford Street on Christmas Eve.
He needs a midfield craftsman to unpick that kind of double-bolted lock.
But watching England’s recent performances have been like watching a drunk trying to get his key in the door of his next-door neighbour’s house.
It should be remembered that England were dumped out of previous World Cups by the maverick skills of Andrea Pirlo and Luka Modric.
The ill-fated European Championship final at Wembley turned when Roberto Mancini’s Italy came from behind as England surrendered midfield to the Italians and resorted to long-ball tactics rather than guile.
They were simply too scared to lose, too scared to put their faith in a midfielder who could get on the ball and create something constructive.
In the aftermath of the World Cup semi-final defeat to Croatia, the nation pointed to Modric and asked: “Why can’t we produce a flair player like him?”
But Maddison ticks those boxes. The 25-year-old was the highest-scoring English midfielder last season — second only to Kevin De Bruyne as the Prem’s highest-scoring midfielder.
Since the start of last season, Harry Kane is the only Englishman who can better his scoring and assist stats.
And he is in form — which is even more impressive considering he plays for a Leicester side struggling at the foot of the table.
Maddison has risen above the Foxes’ woes, contributing three goals and one assist in his six Prem appearances this season.
He also finished last season on fire, rattling in four goals in his final four Premier League games.
That actually edged him ahead of Jamie Vardy as Leicester’s top scorer last season, with 18 goals in all competitions.
He also romped the Foxes’ Player of the Year award after producing the kind of consistency England is crying out for.
Yet he still did not appear on Southgate’s radar when he named his bloated 28-strong squad for the double-header with Italy and Germany.
Southgate will no doubt point to Mason Mount and James Ward-Prowse as his potential match-winners from midfield.
But neither has the stats to beat Maddison, who can add his excellence at dead-ball situations to his array of talents.
In the last year, Maddison has been directly involved in 30 Leicester goals yet he has again been snubbed — a one-cap wonder.
The biggest wonder, however, is why Southgate refuses to pick the maverick who could finally rid England of their boring image.
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