England’s pursuit of World Cup qualification will go right to their final game after Gareth Southgate’s side were held by a stubborn Hungarian outfit.
After a largely positive calendar year, the Three Lions looked well off their usual high standards as they struggled to break down their opponents’ 5-3-2 block.
We analyze exactly how England failed to win a tournament qualifier at Wembley for the first time since September 2012.
England has had their fair share of stars who just could not play well together, with Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard immediately springing to mind.
Tonight it was Mason Mount and Phil Foden who were asked to play side-by-side in England’s midfield three, with Declan Rice behind the pair.
After Foden’s positive performance against Andorra, Southgate was left with a selection headache and opted to play the Man City star alongside Chelsea’s Mount.
The Three Lions appeared to lack the strength necessary in the middle of the park to break down Hungary, but Southgate was not keen to entertain this as the reason his side struggled.
He said: “We’ve been playing 4-3-3 a lot, but perhaps with a different profile of No8’s.
“Tonight we wanted to look at something a little bit different, we knew we would be without Kalvin Phillips and we knew we would have to break a packed defense down.
“I’m not certain that it was the profile of the players tonight that was the issue, in terms of not being able to break them down.
“We just didn’t play with the same fluidity and individual level of performance that we’ve come to appreciate and expect.”
Southgate’s Great problem
Jack Grealish was England’s brightest spark against the Magyars, and comfortably had the better of the Hungarian defense.
Manchester City’s £100million man was, in trademark style, often seen running directly at the opposition, putting them on the back foot and forcing them to either haul him down or simply watch him glide past.
This is exactly how the Three Lions earned the free-kick from which John Stones netted the equalizer in the 37th minute.
It was a different story on the opposite flank, where his club teammate Raheem Sterling was having a torrid time thanks to a combination of Zsolt Nagy and Attila Szalai, who supplied a near-impenetrable wall for the out-of-form winger.
For Grealish, his evening was complete shortly after the hour mark, as Southgate looked to make a difference and replaced him for Bukayo Saka.
The England boss limited Grealish’s playing time at Euro 2020, which came with a fair amount of criticism, and with the Three Lions’ attacking threat dropping off after his removal, a similar response is likely.
In the process of picking up a point at Wembley, Hungary became the first side to stop England from winning a World Cup or European Championship qualifier at their national stadium since Ukraine did so on September 11, 2012.
This was achieved through the 5-3-2 block that Marco Rossi had opted to deploy.
England are no strangers to coming up against sides that place the majority of their team behind the ball, but with the Three Lions physically weak in central areas, this played into Hungary’s hands.
The Magyars had started well, displaying a good shape with good energy to match, whilst their hosts took a while to get going.
Luke Shaw’s high boot on Loic Nego gave them the perfect opportunity to get ahead in the game from the spot.
A chance Roland Sallai duly took, sending Jordan Pickford the wrong way from 12 yards out.
Captain Harry Kane failed to score for England in a major tournament qualifying match for the first time in 15 matches.
And truthfully, he never looked like scoring against Hungary and cut a frustrated figure up top, before he was replaced by Tammy Abraham with 15 minutes still to play.
Granted, England struggled to create opportunities, but Kane appeared to lack the little bit of sharpness that has made him so rampant in recent seasons.
As he often does when he is struggling for goals, Kane kept dropping deep to search for the ball. Matched with that yard or two of pace he seems to have lost, it fell into Hungary’s game plan.
John Stones has been struggling for game time at his club this season, not making a single appearance for Manchester City, but you would not have known that from this evening’s performance.
Alongside scoring the equalizer, he dominated the backline for England, winning the most headers and blocking the most shots of anyone in white.
Additionally, he won possession in both the middle third (6) and defensive third (5) more times than any of his teammates.
He also had a successful evening with the ball at his feet, with 96.9% passing accuracy from his 97 attempts, 10 of which were successful long balls.