After two games in 46 weeks, England have three in seven days. While they face Wales, in a friendly, followed by Belgium and Denmark in the Nations League, the problems have piled up along with the fixtures for Gareth Southgate. He has plenty of issues to address in the next week:
Southgate changed the culture of the England team, restoring the country's faith in role models and likeable lads. Yet Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood were sent home from Iceland after breaking Covid-19 regulations, and both have been omitted from this squad, while Jadon Sancho, Ben Chilwell and Tammy Abraham miss the Wales game after attending a birthday party for the Chelsea striker which flouted the 'rule of six'. As millions make sacrifices in tough times, such behaviour sits badly while Southgate looks let down. How much will he lay down the law?
Jose Mourinho has already made pointed comments about Harry Kane’s workload. A congested campaign runs a greater risk of injuries. Southgate has named an expanded 30-man squad and suggested no player will start all three games. Club managers will be seeing if he is true to his word.
Jordan Pickford is a conundrum: often excellent for England and error-prone for Everton. But can England be confident he will not blunder for them? Nick Pope was the outstanding English goalkeeper in the Premier League last season, though his mistake at Newcastle on Saturday was ill-timed. The Burnley man should get just a third cap, and possibly Dean Henderson a first, this week.
Southgate has selected four specialist right-backs and only one left-back – Chilwell, who will not face Wales. Right-back Kieran Trippier swapped flanks, not entirely convincingly, against Iceland and Denmark last month. Southgate has the chance to experiment with two who have improved at Arsenal: Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who debuted as a substitute in Denmark, and the uncapped Bukayo Saka, who is at least a left-footer.
England have five consecutive clean sheets. Their defenders cannot say the same. Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold were culpable as Liverpool conceded seven at Aston Villa and Harry Maguire, who has had a wretched start to the season, awful as Manchester United let in six to Tottenham. It may be a question of assessing their confidence.
England player ratings v Denmark
England had flourished after moving to 4-3-3. Southgate’s switch to 3-4-3 in Denmark backfired, giving England a sterile side, hindered by his decision to play two holding players. Does he try that shape again or revert to the 4-3-3 that helped them score 38 goals in 2019?
Who is the creator?
Despite such a big squad, Southgate, who sees Jack Grealish as a forward, has a solitary attacking midfielder. Without Dele Alli, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ross Barkley, James Maddison and Foden, Mason Mount looks pivotal. And it suggests there is still a place for Foden in his plans.
Playing the Jack?
Southgate has seemed unconvinced by Grealish. He was slow to select him and only gave him 14 minutes in Copenhagen on his debut. But the Villa captain is coming off a two-goal, three-assist demolition of Liverpool, into a squad without the injured Raheem Sterling and, temporarily, Sancho. If he does not get a proper chance now, he never will.
The right sort of problem to have. Southgate need not overplay Kane. Danny Ings had the season of his life last year, scoring 22 league goals. Dominic Calvert-Lewin is now the division's top scorer. Each deserves a go, but it will be interesting to see who is Kane's understudy and what the pecking order is.