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Gareth Southgate’s three lions have qualified for the World Cup, in true English style. Slow, unimaginative and insipid were prevalent words in newspapers across the country. England’s two 1-0 wins at home to Slovenia and away to Lithuania left fans less than enthused. However, supporters had something to discuss – Harry Winks.

England needed one point in their remaining two games to more or less guarantee automatic qualification. With their two biggest rivals (Scotland and Slovakia) due to play, it presented Southgate’s men a chance to book their place to Russia in style.

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The final whistle blew at Wembley, a 94th minute Harry Kane goal the only thing separating the two sides. Serious questions where being directed at Southgate. Although it isn’t the first time his credentials as a manager had come under scrutiny, it seemed almost at boiling point. Pundits and fans demanded answers for the same question – why are we fielding two holding midfielders at home to a (supposedly) inferior side?

A midfield partnership of Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson screams two words, sideways pass. The ball recycling qualities of both players will rarely come into question. Both boast an average pass accuracy in the mid 80’s. Although respectable and sometimes crucial, it isn’t a quality required to breakdown a resolute defence.

England fans wanted a change, especially after qualification had been confirmed. Discussions on the formation and starting 11 were high on the agenda. Is the Premier League favourite 4-2-3-1 formation right for this England side? Do we have the players for a 3-5-2/3-4-3 debuted by Antonio Conte’s Chelsea in the previous season? Will bringing in some new faces reignite the pace and penetration that English players seem to so often display at club level?

At 3:45pm, the England team to face Lithuania was released. After previously experimenting with a 3 at the back earlier in qualifying, Southgate returned to the idea for this final group stage match. A few changes were made to the team as well as a surprise debut for Tottenham’s rising star, Harry Winks.

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Winks’ rise to prominence had gone somewhat unnoticed. Despite only starting 4 Premier League games for Spurs, he was Mauricio Pochettino’s most used substitute last season. The Argentine manager has clearly taken a shine to the young Englishman, referring to him as ‘the perfect midfielder’ and even going as far to call him his ‘little Iniesta’.

With the eyes of his countryman now upon him, the young starlet did not disappoint. Winks’ performance sent England fans down memory lane, with almost instant comparisons to the forgotten Jack Wilshere. Most Arsenal fans point to the energetic all action style of Wilshere being his most memorable displays. However, Winks’ international debut demonstrated great similarities with Wilshere’s performances under Hodgson, at the base of a midfield diamond.

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Winks was everywhere, demonstrating his ever extending array of talents throughout the match. His energy and constant movement for the ball gave England an outlet when in possession which had been sorely missed in previous matches. Although Winks made a difference going forward for England, he was just as impressive defensively. His 5 foot 8 inch frame may lead you to believe he could be easily manoeuvred, especially in a high intensity zone of the pitch. This was not the case, often holding off his much larger counter parts with his guile and determination.

Although many critics will be pointing to Winks not starting games for his club side, his performances as a substitute are placing him in good stead. Consistency in passing capabilities coupled with improvement in defensive output creates the midfield headache that his manager undoubtably requests.

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One performance will not convince the neigh sayers to change their minds. If Winks was not to gain the game time associated with being a starting player for his National team, it would be hard to see the hybrid midfielder included in the first eleven. Friendlies against Germany and Brazil are fast approaching, and with England’s void of creative midfielders, chances will come for Winks to show his worth.

When it comes to Southgate’s final decision on his squad for the upcoming World Cup, supporters will no doubt be judging the ex-Middlesbrough manager on his choice of midfielders. Fans expect the inclusion of qualifying regulars such as Dier, Livermore and Henderson. However, the more creative inclusions could have a large say in the hopes and expectations of the travelling support.

Josh Jones – Trigger the Press

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