The focus shifts to maintaining equilibrium. Although there is excitement surrounding Trent Alexander-Arnold’s potential to play in midfield for England, which could elevate his role in controlling the game with his creative passing, it is important to remember that successful national teams typically prioritize stability in this position.
Gareth Southgate seemed to be thinking about this after England’s narrow victory against Malta last Friday. He tried out new tactics, with their spot in Euro 2024 already secured, by putting Alexander-Arnold, Conor Gallagher, and Jordan Henderson in midfield, but it didn’t go as planned. Southgate, who substituted Gallagher at half-time, was concerned by the amount of room Malta was able to find in front of England’s defense.
The team manager is requesting for better performance as England’s qualifying campaign concludes in North Macedonia on Monday. Southgate is frequently criticized for being overly cautious, however, he has a valid reason for seeking balance. There is concern that England’s midfield struggles without Declan Rice. It was only when Rice was subbed in that Malta’s challenges ceased.
The previous captain of West Ham encountered similar problems when he didn’t play in England’s victory against Australia last month. None of the other defensive midfielders possess the same level of strength as Rice. Additionally, no other midfielder protects England’s defense and enables their forwards to perform as efficiently.
It makes Arsenal’s £105m man one of England’s three irreplaceables. The most obvious is Harry Kane, for his goals, assists and leadership, and the country would go into panic mode if Jude Bellingham picked up an injury that threatened his participation next summer. There are other attacking midfielders but Bellingham is a special case. He could make the difference.
However, Rice remains a crucial player. Other positions may have more depth. While John Stones is regarded as England’s top centre-back, Marc Guéhi is a capable substitute. There is also plenty of talent in the goalkeeper, right-back, and wide areas.
Rice is irreplaceable. Despite not starting a league game for Manchester City this season, Kalvin Phillips is still a member of the team. Calls for James Ward-Prowse and Sean Longstaff have not persuaded Southgate to make any changes. Henderson’s performance against Malta hinted that his move to the Saudi Pro League may have affected his mobility on the field.
England depends on Rice, who offers stability and protection against Malta. He excels in tackles, has a keen sense of danger, and helps alleviate pressure from an occasionally unsteady defense. Being efficient is crucial. It’s not just about having a lot of playmakers on the field. Southgate still seems to favor the double pivot of Rice and Phillips over leaving one defensive player behind two attacking midfielders, especially in important matches.
“I comprehend Gareth’s desire for two defensive midfielders,” Rice stated. “I am aware that the audience craves for an abundance of attacking skill, but as a manager, I share the same concern for defensive stability. Whenever I have partnered with Hendo, we have always had a double pivot system in theory, but he has always had the freedom to push forward. The same applies when I play alongside Kalv or Trent.”
Declan Rice showed his determination and ability to make progress on the field, evident when he had a goal disallowed during a match against Malta. He is currently in a positive mindset and has welcomed the opportunity to become Arsenal’s most expensive signing. Despite feeling nervous during the transfer process, Rice recognizes the significance of being bought for £105m and remains grounded by focusing on his personal growth and playing style.
This past year has been successful. Rice guided West Ham to victory in the Europa Conference League last year and continues to make progress.
Rice stated that it’s important to constantly evolve as a player. He mentioned that his role at Arsenal is slightly different from before and there has been discussion about his ability to play in a more advanced position. During his time at West Ham, when he played as a box-to-box midfielder, manager David Moyes encouraged him to roam and do whatever was necessary to get on the ball.
“I have noticed that at Arsenal, there is a stronger emphasis on structure and patience. We tend to have more possession of the ball, therefore I have had to focus on playing in a more progressive manner. This has been a shift for me as I am used to playing on a team that excels in counterattacking.”
Rice, who is set to earn his 48th international appearance against North Macedonia, has a knack for adjusting and excelling. While Arsenal deploys him as a left-sided midfielder and encourages him to move forward, England relies on his discipline in a more defensive position.
Bellingham has caused quite a stir, and Alexander-Arnold must improve his knowledge of the position and be tested in midfield against tough opponents.
However, credit must be given to the player who keeps everything running smoothly. England’s performance in the Euros will suffer without Rice. He is the key component keeping everything united.