Gareth Southgate admitted England are too reliant on Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling for a cutting edge after his side toiled during a dull goalless draw against Italy, which leaves them without a goal from open play in three Nations League games this month.
Clear opportunities were few at Molineux, although Mason Mount struck the crossbar early on and Sterling missed England’s best chance shortly after half-time. They did not make the most of a 59% possession share and Southgate admitted his team have been blunt going forward, adding to the burden on their biggest names.
“We’re very, very reliant on Harry and Raheem for our goals at the moment and that is a concern,” he said. “We keep working on getting balls into the right areas, but in the end in the attacking areas the quality of play is crucial. There’s been a little bit of a lack of sharpness in those areas across the three matches, really. I think we had the players on the pitch today, we made the changes that we hoped would refresh the team as well, but we also played an Italian team that were very well organised.
“We had a long discussion [on Friday] about needing to control games better, which is a desire without a doubt, but controlling games with possession doesn’t guarantee the goals. In the end if you don’t score then you end up open to criticism, as I’m sure we will be.”
Taking Sterling and Kane, who came on as a second-half substitute, out of the equation England’s midfielders and forwards have 18 international goals between them. Tammy Abraham missed an early opportunity to add to his three while Southgate pointed out that Jack Grealish, who made a widely demanded start, had rarely looked like scoring.
“Jack is what you saw tonight,” he said. “He takes the ball, retains the ball really well, he’s got that close control that can put teams on the back foot. I think he had only one attempt on goal tonight and I go back to what we’re saying with all our attacking players: Harry and Raheem at the moment are the ones that consistently get the goals. That’s an area we’ve got to improve if we’re going to progress as a team.”
Southgate hailed Kane’s consistency but reiterated that the supporting cast needs to step up. “The concern is if you don’t have him for whatever reason,” he said. “Every top team relies on their best players: of course in the end the quality of your top players is a large factor in determining how successful you are.
“We’re fortunate that we’ve got some very good ones and our captain’s goalscoring record is phenomenal. But we’ve got to start spreading that load and there are players that are scoring more regularly with their clubs; we’ve got to convert that into international football and keep working on getting them into those right areas.”
England rode their luck at times in the first half but dominated the last half-hour and Southgate said a normal crowd, on top of the 2,000 children who were allowed to attend under the terms of the stadium ban, might have pushed them over the line. “That’s the period where if we had a full house it would make a difference,” he said.