Harry Kane is peripheral and a passenger. Gareth Southgate must fix this misfiring side fast or England’s dream will be in ruins after flat and lethargic Denmark display, writes OLIVER HOLT 

To adapt a line from Apocalypse Now, sometimes the problems pile up so high for England at major tournaments, you need wings to stay above them.

Gareth Southgate does not have wings. So he is going to have to get his hands dirty. He has to fix his misfiring side and he has to fix it fast because if things do not improve drastically, England’s dream of winning their first major tournament for 58 years will soon be in ruins.

The question is, where to start? England were so poor in their 1-1 draw with Denmark in the sultry heat of the German afternoon that it was hard to think of a player who emerged with credit.

Gary Neville once said ruefully that ‘six out of 10’ would probably be written on his gravestone but barely any of these players scaled those heights.

England looked lethargic and flat. Their pressing was half-hearted and unco-ordinated. They lacked rhythm, they lacked a player who could dictate the tempo of play. Too often, they struggled to contain Denmark’s breaks from midfield.

England were held to a 1-1 draw with Denmark which leaves them top of Group C as it stands

England were held to a 1-1 draw with Denmark which leaves them top of Group C as it stands

It was a disappointing performance from Gareth Southgate's men in their second group game

It was a disappointing performance from Gareth Southgate’s men in their second group game

Southgate will need to be ruthless in his plans if the Three Lions are to roar again

Southgate will need to be ruthless in his plans if the Three Lions are to roar again

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At least we are getting our scapegoats in earlier than usual. The experiment of playing Trent Alexander-Arnold in midfield had been identified by many as a potential Achilles’ heel and so it proved. Southgate recognised it, too.

MATCH FACTS

DENMARK: (3-4-1-2) Schmeichel; Andersen, Christensen, Vestergaard; Maehle, Hjulmand (Norgaard 82), Hojbjerg, Kristiansen (Bah 57); Eriksen (Skov Olsen 82); Wind (Damsgaard 57), Hojlund (Poulsen 67)

Subs not used: Hermansen (GK), Ronnow (GK); Kjaer, Jensen, Dolberg, Jorgensen, Dreyer, Kristensen, Bruun Larsen

Goals: Hjulmand (34)

Bookings: Vestergaard (27), Maehle (73), Norgaard (87)

Coach: Kasper Hjulmand

 

ENGLAND: (4-2-3-1) Pickford; Walker, Stones, Guehi, Trippier; Alexander-Arnold (Gallagher 54), Rice; Saka (Eze 69), Bellingham, Foden (Bowen 69); Kane (Watkins 69)

Subs not used: Ramsdale (GK), Henderson (GK); Konsa, Dunk, Toney, Gordon, Gomez, Palmer, Wharton, Mainoo

Goals: Kane (18)

Bookings: Gallagher (61)

Coach: Gareth Southgate

 

Referee: Artur Soares Dias (Portugal)

Venue: Deutsche Bank Park (Frankfurt)

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He and his staff and the player have invested a lot of planning in deploying him alongside Declan Rice in front of the back four. But against Serbia and in the first half against Denmark, there were only brief flashes of hope that the experiment would work.

Eight minutes into the second half here, Southgate grasped the nettle and substituted him for Conor Gallagher.

It was a bold experiment and it has not worked. It seems likely it will now be abandoned. But that is not the beginning and the end of England’s problems. There is plenty else to work on. Southgate must have felt like he was playing a game of whack-a-mole last night. He tried to fix one issue and then another popped up.

Things move at light speed in tournament football. By the end of the match, Alexander-Arnold was old news. The debate had moved on to England’s captain.

Harry Kane has long been one of England’s Untouchables. His first-half goal against the Danes was his 64th for his country and means he has scored more goals at major tournaments than any England player. But the goal came in the 18th minute and Kane did very little either side of it, although it was his aimless loose ball deep inside his own half that led to Morten Hjulmand’s superb 34th-minute equaliser.

He struggled with a back injury towards the end of his stellar first season with Bayern Munich. He looks far from fully fit.

Kane, who was substituted 20 minutes from the end, played only a marginal role. He is prone to drifting in and out of games, a trait shared by plenty of strikers, but he was more peripheral than usual last night. He scored, then he became a passenger.

As the game petered out into a contest England were lucky to draw, other greats of the England striking fraternity such as Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer trained their sights on the England No 9.

No one with any sense is suggesting England should drop Kane. That would be madness. But it is clear that he, and too many of England’s best players, are under-performing in this tournament and that the manager is not yet getting the best out of the riches at his disposal.

Harry Kane gave England the lead after 18 minutes to give his side the early advantage

Harry Kane gave England the lead after 18 minutes to give his side the early advantage

England's No 9 guides the ball into the bottom corner of the net after Kyle Walker's cross

England’s No 9 guides the ball into the bottom corner of the net after Kyle Walker’s cross

Kane was sharp to the ball as he pounced after it pinballed inside the Denmark area

Kane was sharp to the ball as he pounced after it pinballed inside the Denmark area

Kane celebrates scoring the opener while full-back Kieran Trippier (right) joins him

Kane celebrates scoring the opener while full-back Kieran Trippier (right) joins him 

Morten Hjulmand (No 21) celebrates after equalising with a long-range stunner

Morten Hjulmand (No 21) celebrates after equalising with a long-range stunner

With no England player to pressure him, Hjulmand fires a shot at goal from 30 yards out

With no England player to pressure him, Hjulmand fires a shot at goal from 30 yards out

Hjulmand's shot strikes the base of Pickford's post before ricocheting into the net

Hjulmand’s shot strikes the base of Pickford’s post before ricocheting into the net 

Hjulmand (left) wheels away in celebration after levelling the scores in style for Denmark

Hjulmand (left) wheels away in celebration after levelling the scores in style for Denmark

Managers adapt in tournament conditions. Sir Bobby Robson did it at the 1990 World Cup. He changed England’s formation after they had made a bad start and they came within an ace of making the final.

Southgate has to adapt, too. Jude Bellingham is the star of this team, a kid so talented that it appears he can be the best player wherever he starts, but too many around him seem ill-at-ease with the system.

Some will urge Southgate to rip it up and start again but it need not be that radical. One solution proposed is moving Bellingham back to the deeper-lying role once occupied by Alexander-Arnold and moving Phil Foden into the central position behind Kane.

That would allow Southgate to inject more pace into the side on the left, perhaps with Anthony Gordon. Both developments would free up Kane and give him more space to work in.

Now England have to gather themselves. They are top of Group C and even if they lose to Slovenia in their final game in Cologne on Tuesday, it is unlikely they will be eliminated. But that kind of talk is a far cry from the optimism that accompanied them when they flew to Germany.

Phil Foden creates space to shoot but leans back too far and blasts his shot over the bar

Phil Foden creates space to shoot but leans back too far and blasts his shot over the bar

The pitch at the Frankfurt Arena was treacherous for the players and was widely criticised

The pitch at the Frankfurt Arena was treacherous for the players and was widely criticised

Denmark piled the pressure on England towards the end of the first half after equalising

Denmark piled the pressure on England towards the end of the first half after equalising

Bellingham (centre) is closed down by two Danish defenders during an England attack

Bellingham (centre) is closed down by two Danish defenders during an England attack

Kane had put England ahead against the run of play. Victor Kristiansen was so busy shepherding a ball away from Bukayo Saka on the Denmark left he did not see Kyle Walker hurtling past him on his blind side.

Walker stole the ball from him, advanced towards the goal-line and whipped a cross into the box. Saka prodded at it and it squirted loose to Kane, who had the simple task of sliding it low past Kasper Schmeichel into the bottom corner from a few yards.

Denmark remained undaunted. They continued to play the better football, they kept the ball better, they looked more confident and more fluid. Christian Eriksen was at the core of everything they did.

Denmark deserved an equaliser and 11 minutes before half-time, they got one when Kane received the ball under pressure at a throw-in deep in England’s half and hit the ball infield blindly.

Denmark pounced on it and when it was moved straight to Hjulmand 30 yards out, he took a touch and let fly. The shot was beautifully and ferociously hit and it arrowed beyond Jordan Pickford’s despairing dive and in off the England goalkeeper’s right-hand post.

England were being outplayed. Alexander-Arnold was withdrawn early in the second half and even though Foden smashed a shot past Schmeichel that cannoned off the foot of a post, there was no real conviction in their play.

Bellingham did produce one brilliant pass to free substitute Ollie Watkins once Kane had exited but Watkins delayed a fraction too long before shooting, the angle got tighter and his effort was well saved by Schmeichel.

Southgate (left) decided to bring off Alexander-Arnold (No 8) in the 54th minute for Gallagher

Southgate (left) decided to bring off Alexander-Arnold (No 8) in the 54th minute for Gallagher

Saka battles for the ball as Schmeichel (right) rushes out of his goal to clear the danger

Saka battles for the ball as Schmeichel (right) rushes out of his goal to clear the danger

Denmark nearly snatched victory three times in the space of two minutes as the clock ticked down. Marc Guehi was sold short by Rice and lost the ball to Alexander Bah but as Bah bore down on goal, Guehi recovered superbly and blocked his cross.

Andreas Christensen should have scored from the resulting corner but he leaned back when the ball fell to him six yards out and his shot cleared the bar. As England tried to play the ball out from the back, Walker gave it away and Hojbjerg curled a shot just wide of the post.

So Southgate’s side finished the game clinging on, grateful for a point. They left looking like beaten men. There is much to do if new life is to be breathed into England’s great expectations.

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