England 0 Denmark 1: Harry Maguire sent off as dismal Three Lions crash to defeat at Wembley
TWO nights in a Greek jail, a 6-1 home defeat by Tottenham and now a red card for England at Wembley.
No wonder Harry Maguire, the captain of Manchester United and the world’s most expensive defender, looked a broken man when he trudged off the Wembley turf after just half an hour of this Nations League defeat.
Old Slab-head, cult hero of the Russian World Cup of 2018, had committed two of the clearest yellow-card offences you could ever see.
So unlike the incident which led to his arrest in Mykonos in August, there was no recourse to appeal.
Maguire is a very popular man – a firm personal favourite of England boss Gareth Southgate, a man-of-the-people terrace icon and a player whose leadership qualities are cherished at United, a club which had needed such a natural captain for years.
Sometimes, though, a man can be too stoical for his own good.
Maguire is currently a liability for club and country. He surely needs to take a rest for his own good before he plunges deeper into professional crisis.
You’d like to recommend a holiday, but then again, maybe not.
For such an upstanding bloke, Maguire is too often horizontal on the pitch these days – two ugly lunges earned his two bookings here.
Southgate swears by Maguire, included him in his squad days after his arrest, and even considered recalling him immediately after he successfully appealed against his convictions.
But loyalty can become blind. And back at United, high-class defensive options are thin on the ground.
Defeat by Denmark was a thudding comedown for England, after Sunday’s comeback victory over Belgium.
They must now defeat the No 1 team in the world in Brussels next month to stand a realistic chance of topping their Nations League group and reaching the finals.
While Maguire’s dismissal was unarguable, the awarding of the Christian Eriksen penalty which followed it fell somewhere between extremely soft and plain wrong.
Yet Southgate had barely approached this match with the confidence of a manager who had just taken such a significant scalp three days earlier.
This was a deeply conservative line-up – featuring three specialist right-backs and two out-and-out holding midfielders, meaning England were struggling for momentum even with 11 men.
The midfield did not ooze with creativity with Kalvin Phillips alongside Declan Rice in central midfield – as in last month’s goalless draw in Copenhagen, which you wouldn’t need to be a goldfish to have forgotten already.
England wore blue, which always looks plain wrong, and with the silence of a behind-closed-doors game always seeming more silent still in Wembley’s vast expanses, you couldn’t help feel that three games in an international break was one too many.
Earlier in the day, New Zealand had pulled out of their barely-anticipated friendly against the Three Lions here next month – but the FA assure us they will find suitable replacement opposition.
The Faroe Islands may be free, or failing that, perhaps Lilliput.
Marcus Rashford made the first false move of the night, botching the kick-off while the rest of them took a knee.
And Maguire was soon booked for a horrible challenge on Yussuf Poulsen, which might easily have been a straight red if there’d been VAR to make it look even worse in slow motion.
A cunning Eriksen corner, played low to the near post was met by Kapser Dolberg, whose shot was deflected wide.
One of England’s few bright sparks was Chelsea’s Reece James – who could have been forgiven for wondering if he’d ever win an England cap, given Southgate’s surplus of right-backs – but got his first international start.
He found plenty of space down yet his crosses deserved a greater end product.
Then, four minutes of madness where the game was lost.
Maguire was guilty of shockingly poor control, leaving him to over-stretch in his recovery attempt and catch Dolberg on his follow-through.
After four years under Southgate without a single red card, here was the second in as many months, following Kyle Walker’s equally-deserved sending-off in Iceland.
Maguire looked down at the Wembley turf, perhaps blaming a bobble for his initial poor touch, or simply wishing the hallowed surface would swallow him up.
Spanish ref Jesus Gil Manzano, dressed to kill in lobster pink, did not look a man shy of the spotlight and he was soon pointing at the spot for little apparent reason.
With Jordan Pickford inexplicably off his line, Walker tussled with Thomas Delaney and was penalised for clipping a man on his way down.
Eriksen drilled the spot-kick down the middle and England were up against it.
Southgate reverted to a flat back four with Tyrone Mings coming on for Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Walker switching to right-back and James going to the left.
England refused to give up, however, and on 65 minutes, Mason Mount’s header compelled Kasper Schmeichel to make an outstanding
Daniel Wass squandered a free header for the Danes and then Southgate sent on Jadon Sancho, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Jordan Henderson in an attempt to nick a point.
James had a free-kick tipped over by Schmeichel but England’s tackling was often reckless and while Southgate kept losing his rag with Manzano, he was rarely in the right.
His problems have mounted this autumn, ever since Maguire’s arrest.
Now the England boss must think about replacing his one-time defensive rock.
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