Harry Maguire has acknowledged that England’s defending must improve after defeat by Czech Republic and admitted that a testing start to the season for several of Gareth Southgate’s first-choice backline contributed to their slapdash display in Prague.
Maguire has struggled to live up to his status as the world’s most expensive defender since moving to Old Trafford in the summer for £80m, with the former Leicester player again noticeably below his best against the Czechs. It was a similar story for fellow centre-half Michael Keane, who – like Everton teammate Jordan Pickford – has suffered four consecutive Premier League defeats and was caught out at the back post for Jakub Brabec’s equaliser in the first half.
With Danny Rose’s future at Tottenham also uncertain, Southgate faces a big decision whether to make changes at the back as England attempt to secure qualification against Bulgaria on Monday. Asked if confidence was low after their respective difficulties at their clubs, Maguire said: “Yes, maybe. We bring our club football into international level. It was a difficult game – we took the lead but didn’t deserve to. The second half we controlled the game a lot more than the first half but we gave them a sloppy goal to win the game. We need to improve on that.”
The defeat ended England’s 43-match unbeaten run in qualifiers that stretched back to the preliminaries of the 2010 World Cup and meant Southgate’s side have now conceded five times in their last two matches. Ben Chilwell of Leicester and Liverpool pair Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez are in contention to play in Sofia, although the latter has started only one Premier League game this season. Yet Maguire, who played just once in qualifying for the last World Cup before establishing himself as England’s first-choice defender in Russia, believes they must now show more adaptability.
“You are wanting to develop partnerships. Sometimes in international level you can’t really do that,” he said. “You have players who aren’t playing for their clubs so they don’t get selected, and you have players that pick up injuries.
“You’ve got to adapt. That’s one of the tricky parts of playing international football – every camp you’re normally playing alongside and need to develop new partnerships. But listen, there’s no excuses. [The defence] need to be better. We need to be better going forward. We need to be better on the ball. And we certainly need to be better at keeping the ball out of the net.”