England have a truly exciting young team with one notable weakness: defensive midfield.

The base of England’s midfield five is clearly a step below the rest of the side in terms of both execution and stability. It’s also the one area where there is no clear choice for the position, which probably contributes to the position being a weakness. Every other spot has someone locked down, with perhaps one solid back-up. The no. 6, however, does not.

There are, however, a few top candidates for the position. Here we’ve rounded up six players (of course) who are embroiled in the race to establish themselves as England’s no. 6 starting tonight against Croatia. Who’s on the list? Read on and find out.

1. Jordan Henderson

28 years old, 46 caps

Pros: experience, long-range passing
Cons: defensively poor, loses possession

Jordan Henderson played defensive midfield for England at the World Cup and it was clear why Gareth Southgate liked him at that position: his passing. Henderson isn’t exactly a subtle passer but his ability to receive the ball and then quickly and accurately send it downfield made him priceless when it came to England’s up-tempo style of play.

Of course the problem is that against truly great sides all that Henderson’s insistence to hit the forward pass straight away ended up doing was turning the ball over the opponent. His performance in the World Cup semi-final against Croatia was a particularly bad example of this. Moreover, Henderson has just never been a good defensive presence in terms of marking space. A stopgap at best.

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2. Eric Dier

24 years old, 34 caps

Pros: strong defender, very physical
Cons: a prosaic passer, too prone to coasting

Dier is a genuinely impressive defensive midfielder… for Spurs. When playing in England’s 3-5-2 one would expect him to bring that same defensive solidity but The Three Lions play a much more open and expansive game than Spurs do and so Dier doesn’t end up looking that strong defensively even if he is theoretically good at it. Moreover, Dier’s prosaic passing means that England move the ball too slowly with him at the base, and what’s worse is Dier has a habit of drifting in and out of games which is unforgivable at that position. No way.

3. Nathaniel Chalobah

23 years old, 0 caps (40 u-21 caps)

Pros: superb distribution, strong defensive skills
Cons: injury-prone, inexperienced

Chalobah has been a sensation prospect since he was a teenager at Chelsea but the Blues set his development back by constantly loaning him out around the place. He’s since managed to develop however and is now at the level where he could comfortably step into this role.

Chalobah has everything you’d want to play defensive midfield in Southgate’s system. He’s smart, he’s skilled, he’s athletic; he can pass and defend in equal measure and what’s more he’s got a great history with Southgate owing to the enormous amount of time he’s spent in the u-21 set-up that Southgate emerged from. But he’s inexperienced and injury prone; despite being just one year younger than Dier he has played over 100 games less at the senior level. A possibility, but he’d need to play more first.

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4. Lewis Cook

21 years old, 1 cap

Pros: quality on the ball, good dribbler
Cons: untested in moments of genuine pressure

Lewis Cook is currently with the u-21 squad but he has the potential to be an outside shout at filling the no. 6 role in the senior squad. Raised in Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth, he is familiar and functional in a midfield that prioritises keeping the ball. He tends to play a bit more advanced than he would here, but adapting his skill-set, particularly he ease with the ball at his feet, could have great benefits to England in their attempts to become more resistant to opponent’s press. Maybe.

5. John Stones

24 years old, 35 caps

Pros: impeccable distribution, excellent defender
Cons: not a defensive midfielder

John Stones has become the pillar of England’s three-man defence but luckily for Gareth Southgate if there’s one thing England have plenty of, it’s great defenders e.g. Stones could be pushed up and Gomez moved centrally whilst Walker comes back into the side.

Stones playing defensive midfield would give England a big body in the middle that loves to be aggressive and attack the ball as well as be thoroughly gentle and precise when in possession. Of course Stones is a defender and the way defenders are pressed is wholly different to the way a midfielder has to be spatially aware so the degree to which he could play here vs. elite opposition is probably low. A last resort.

6. Harry Winks

22 years old, 1 cap

Pros: superb passing, solid defending, strong mentality
Cons: inexperienced at international level

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Harry Winks seems like he’s been pretty much manufactured to play defensive midfield for Gareth Southgate’s England. Here’s a midfielder who thrives at the base of midfield both with the ball and without. He’s not super fast but he has enough pace to get around the pitch, he knows how to keep play moving with short and simple plays whilst also understanding the value of a crunching tackle.

Winks is inexperienced at international level but he’s earned his spurs at club level, performing supremely against both Real Madrid and Barcelona in the Champions League. Against Los Blancos he showed his skill on the ball and his ability to control the tempo of a big game, and against Barcelona he showed a never-say-die fighting spirit in the face of superior opponents as well as impressive defensive tenacity.

Harry Winks has got to be the one.

The post The six main candidates to become the No.6 England are crying out for appeared first on Squawka News.

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