England 0 Denmark 1
Harry Maguire’s horror season continues. It has been a nightmare off the pitch, with the story of his misadventures from Mykonos well told, and it has not been much better on it, as he has struggled for rhythm and confidence at Manchester United.
Any notion that he might generate a little momentum in England colours after his solid performance in Sunday’s 2-1 win over Belgium was shot to pieces by a first-half red card that disfigured this Nations League tie from his team’s point of view and led to a disappointing defeat.
After Belgium, Gareth Southgate declared that the “best teams back up big results through consistency”. This was not what he had in mind. Maguire was lucky that he did not receive a straight red for an ugly challenge on Yussuf Poulsen in the fifth minute but his evening was over when he miscontrolled a pass and then went into Kasper Dolberg. England had to play for an hour or so with 10 men.
They were the architects of their own downfall, with Denmark’s goal another black mark in a growing collection of them for Jordan Pickford. The goalkeeper charged from his line but only served to panic Kyle Walker, who was then penalised for a soft challenge on Thomas Delaney.
England fought despite being a man down and Conor Coady went close to the equaliser in the dying minutes but they struggled throughout to cope with the feeling that the referee, Jesús Gil Manzano, was against them. Tempers would boil over at the full-time whistle with Reece James, who was otherwise England’s best player, being sent off for verbally abusing Manzano.
The Belgium victory had been a triumph of resilience, of finding a way to suppress vibrant opponents and, of course, enjoying a couple of breaks. Denmark presented an altogether different challenge and Southgate wanted his players to get on to the front foot, to make things happen in an attacking sense.
Denmark are notoriously difficult to beat these days. They had arrived in London having lost only five times in four years but they came to play, with Christian Eriksen – on the occasion of his 100th cap – in the No 10 role and threats on either flank.
The tempo was high at the outset, the game pleasingly open, but Maguire’s horrible tackle on Poulsen set in train one of the major plotlines. Poulsen had laid the ball off with the outside of his boot and Maguire cleaned him out. It was late and nasty. Maguire collected a yellow card for one of those challenges that are known as dark oranges.
Maguire would not last much longer. He had looked uncomfortable in the 28th minute when he slipped and stretched into an awkward tackle, leaving him feeling his hamstring. Moments later, he knew only misery when he took a poor touch to set up a 50-50 challenge with Dolberg. Maguire got there first, winning the ball, but his heavy and clumsy follow through saw him catch the Denmark centre-forward. Again, it looked bad.
Southgate gave full debuts to Reece James and Ainsley Maitland-Niles in the wing-back roles and he wanted them to play high up. James certainly did and he sent over a clutch of excellent crosses in the first half that, curiously, went all the way through, with nobody reading the deliveries. Where was Harry Kane? More to the point, was the captain fit enough to make the necessary darting runs?
England got into some good areas before the red card, with Mason Mount, too, making inroads on the right. His end product was erratic, although he did touch one lovely Declan Rice pass inside for Kane, who could not get his body shape right for the shot.
Pickford was having a quiet night in the England goal and, perhaps, he felt the urge to get involved, which is never a good look. It is one that seems to afflict him too regularly. He left his line in an attempt to deal with a ball, which was a poor decision and seemed to spook Kyle Walker, who had Delaney in his radar. Pickford was almost at the edge of his area.
Walker lunged and there was a contact with Delaney, who went down. The penalty award was soft but what made it worse was that it felt so needless. Eriksen’s conversion was nerveless.
Kane did not look right. He was slow to lead the press, which is unusual, and it spoke to a lack of sharpness. He had struggled to train properly last week because of muscle fatigue in his thigh and there was precious little threat from him.
When Southgate made substitutions in the 72nd minute, Kane took the armband off and clearly felt he was about to depart. The manager left him on.
England almost restored parity from a corner, when Rice nodded back for Mount and his header was brilliantly saved by Kasper Schmeichel. Although Denmark threatened on the counter through Daniel Wass and Pione Sisto, James worked Schmeichel with a free-kick and Coady almost nicked the equaliser from Kane’s cross only for Simon Kjaer to clear off the line. – Guardian