Great in attack, crazy at the back

Kosovo's Valon Berisha scoring his side's second goal against England in Tuesday's Euro 2020 qualifier at St Mary's Stadium in Southampton. The Three Lions still ran out 5-3 winners and top Group A with 12 points from four games but their sloppy defe
Kosovo's Valon Berisha scoring his side's second goal against England in Tuesday's Euro 2020 qualifier at St Mary's Stadium in Southampton. The Three Lions still ran out 5-3 winners and top Group A with 12 points from four games but their sloppy defence remains a concern for manager Gareth Southgate. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Southgate worried about lapses at the back even as free-scoring England maintain perfect record

LONDON • Gareth Southgate said he was concerned with the "ridiculous, crazy and basic errors" that littered England's 5-3 win over Kosovo on Tuesday, despite the superior attacking display his players showed in the Euro 2020 qualifier.

The victory at St Mary's Stadium means his side have scored 19 goals in four wins in four so far and can secure their place at Euro 2020 with three matches to spare if they beat the Czech Republic next month.

But England manager Southgate admitted the individual mistakes that crept into the performance left major room for improvement.

Michael Keane gifted 120th-ranked Kosovo - who had been on a 15-game unbeaten run stretching back two years - the lead after just 34 seconds with a wayward pass and the visitors also struck twice early in the second half having trailed 5-1 at the interval.

Harry Kane, who was on the scoresheet, also missed a penalty in a chaotic game illuminated by Raheem Sterling's brilliance and the first goals of Jadon Sancho's England career.

"It was bizarre. The outstanding features and poor features are apparent to everybody," Southgate said. "Poor individual mistakes, a poor start to the game. I like the way we showed the composure to recover from that initial mistake...

"But the small period after half-time: ridiculous mistakes, poor decisions, lack of covering back. So, we made the game really uncomfortable for ourselves.

  • England conceded three goals in a competitive home game for the first time since 2007, when a 3-2 loss to Croatia knocked them out of qualifying for Euro 2008.

"There were obviously mistakes that were concerning. We've got to reflect on that but they were such basic errors that you have to learn from. We made some crazy errors."

Kosovo could have scored more as England looked worryingly uncomfortable against the kind of slick passing and movement they can expect from the likes of Spain, France and Belgium next year.

The Three Lions completely switched off four minutes after the break when none of their defenders managed to deal with a cross which found Norwegian-born Lazio forward Valon Berisha in the box to score his second goal of the night.

Six minutes later, Harry Maguire struggled to deal with Vedat Muriqi and ended up conceding a penalty that the forward converted.

By contrast, England were formidable in attack with Sterling scoring once and providing three assists. Sancho scored twice and forced an own goal in his third competitive start for his country.

"It was a crazy game," Sancho said. "I'm just delighted to get my first goals for England."

Southgate added: "Raheem's performances have been of the highest level. I think he's been almost unstoppable, his awareness of where defenders were, his vision and desire to get in on goal, and unselfish play as well, so I couldn't speak highly enough of how he played."

England moved three points clear at the top of Group A ahead of the Czech Republic (nine points), who won 3-0 in Montenegro. Kosovo dropped to third on eight points. England have a game in hand on all four sides below them, which include Bulgaria.

Despite the erratic display, few fans will grumble too much if Southgate's side keep producing barnstorming football like this.

The worry is that such defensive frailty will be brutally exposed next year as England attempt to win their first major silverware since their 1966 home World Cup, with the semi-finals and final of the tournament being staged at Wembley.

THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2019, with the headline 'Great in attack, crazy at the back'. Print Edition | Subscribe