England player ratings v Iceland: Walker, Trippier awful as Gordon and Alexander-Arnold boost chances

Matt Stead
England players lined up before the game against Iceland
Football is no longer coming home

England wisely set the Euro 2024 bar low with a poor display in defence and attack against Iceland. It’s time to start a dialogue over two certain starters.

 

AARON RAMSDALE
That nervous reaction to a slightly heavy yet perfectly predictable Walker back-pass early on set a rather anxious tone. Jordan Pickford used to carry a similar energy in fairness, but he would channel it with at least one wonderful sidewinder to send England through, whereas Ramsdale hammered that into the stands and pretty much restricted himself to short passes thereafter.

Despite the Beaten At His Near Post factor, he ranks about fourth in terms of responsibility for the goal; it absolutely should not have required his services but Ramsdale himself might admit he should have done better. Then there was some indecision at a corner which went unpunished in what was generally just an unconvincing performance. Justice for Mikel Arteta, basically.

 

KYLE WALKER
Quite how he has become both the only fit yet worst defender England have at their disposal is a genuinely impressive mystery. Walker was in no man’s land for the goal and in no rush to leave, creating the issue by joining the press late on and exacerbating it by jogging back as Iceland invaded the space he had vacated to score.

Walker jogging is, in fairness, faster than most people sprinting. But when that famed recovery pace is one of the specific reasons for his inclusion it jars a little to see him make ostensibly little effort to bail out the teammates he had exposed. He also made some dreadful and wasteful decisions on the ball and was busy calling for offside before, funnily enough, full-on, head-down pelting it back when when Thorsteinsson should have scored his second.

There is an understandably intense focus on whether England’s central defence is good enough, but do they have a problem at right-back when Walker is deployed outside the carefully crafted Manchester City system? Can Steve Holland really not just apologise to Ben White?

 

JOHN STONES
As if the entire nation’s tournament hopes did not weigh heavy enough, it took less than a minute for a large Icelandic man to collapse on the ankle of Stones and place England squarely into Uri Geller, Sun front page territory.

It was, to be fair, great banter to see Lewis Dunk sitting beside fellow plane passenger Luke Shaw, neither man fit enough to even make the bench from which a replacement for Stones was called upon at half-time. Before then, the Manchester City defender was slow and sloppy in closing down for the goal but also had not a single semblance of support and little to really do otherwise.

The story is very much his fitness situation – even more so now after that early incident – and Jarrad Branthwaite should keep his phone handy. Either way, England are relying to a laughable degree on a defender who has not played well for club or country since March at best, if indeed he has played at all.

 

MARC GUEHI
An excellent block in either half from a player who dealt well with the aerial aspect of Iceland’s game and was dependable in possession but was accountable for a couple of lapses in concentration. Guehi himself is still coming back from an injury and was the one constant in an otherwise ever-changing cast of defenders which led to some understandable miscommunication and confusion.

He has also been weaponised in the war between Crystal Palace fans and the allied powers of Everton, Brighton and Aston Villa supporters, which is perfectly normal England discourse. He was broadly fine, or not among the main concerns anyway.

 

KIERAN TRIPPIER
Brother eurgh. Trippier at left-back in big 2024 is somehow not the most glaring issue in this backline but good lord it still needs addressing. Joe Gomez is right there and has actually played in the position a) quite a lot and b) quite a lot this season. He would be far from an ideal solution to England’s new left-sided problem but that must have been worth trying instead of a continued Trippier experiment which has never looked particularly comfortable.

Sod it, if you’re going to do the awkward left-back thing then just chuck Trent Alexander-Arnold out there, because Trippier was almost non-existent on the ball and not exactly reliably solid in defence. He spent most of the game in acres of space, arms in the air and calling for passes as Iceland knew there was little point worrying about a player who almost exclusively cut back inside and played it safe when he got it. And in fairness to Trippier, what else is he going to do as an out-of-form, out-of-position player?

 

KOBBIE MAINOO
Did not do too much categorically wrong but little went right either and that midfield pairing with Rice looked woefully imbalanced and out of sync at times. Mainoo individually was about par, picking some nice passes – one for Kane through the lines in the first half was majestic – winning the ball high up and being brave in possession. But he was a key part of a team which seemed disjointed and disorganised, whether the blame for that lies on him or not.

It does not for the goal, to be clear. That had nothing to do with Mainoo’s ‘defensive discipline’ or apparent lack thereof. But this was a game which reflected best on those who did not play, so it is advantage Adam Wharton in the race to become England’s Great Inexperienced Midfield Hope.

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DECLAN RICE
There were a couple of tone-setting moments: the pressing which forced a keeper error and almost a Palmer goal; and the fine driving run before the Kane chance. But those were to be the exceptions as Rice struggled to properly stamp his authority in defence or attack.

 

COLE PALMER
Not particularly cool for either of the second-half opportunities which came his way in quick succession. The touch for the first was, to be fair, sublime while simultaneously forcing him wide. But that second was Adeyemi-in-the-Champions-League-final levels of immediately and obviously the wrong decision.

There is plenty to be said for Palmer finding himself in those situations, for that is not by accident and is instead a consequence of phenomenal movement and anticipation. Plus that cross for Kane in the first half was delectable.

 

PHIL FODEN
One in the eye for the ‘Foden has to play central’ truthers. He at least constantly tried things and did not shirk the responsibility of his role but England created precious little and any exceptions to that rule were not provided by the Manchester City player. One glorious switch to Trippier in the first half was cancelled out by Foden simply stopping tracking his man in the build-up to the goal.

No-one seemed to be on his wavelength, which was most egregious when Rice drove forward just before the Kane chance but ignored how Foden had drifted into space in the area and temporarily away from the attention of any and all defenders in the vicinity. That is obviously not Foden’s fault, but even on the ball it is difficult to recall much of anything he did in the final third.

 

ANTHONY GORDON
If any England player boosted their chances of having a more prominent role in Germany, Gordon was probably that man. The surging runs behind the defence were a heartening show of something different in among the relentless square passes, and some of the early link-up with Palmer was impressive.

It was not all about his pace either. There was one stunning touch to keep the ball in on the byline just before half-time, and a quite funny moment when Gordon dribbled past his man who proceeded to bounce off the Newcastle forward, who simply continued on his path. A fine cutback for Foden was one of a couple of decent deliveries – more than most of his teammates managed. As essentially a one-man attack on the left for the most part, there was promise and plenty to work with.

 

HARRY KANE
Dropped deep to receive a pass in his own half from Stones in the second minute, which is always fun to see because it will annoy precisely the right kind of people. And it opens up the prospect of him playing at centre-half, which is an avenue worth exploring at this point.

The turn to leave his marker dead before playing an instant slide-rule ball into Gordon from his own half was ludicrous, evoking beautiful memories of that Spain game a few years back. Kane should have scored when found by a delightful Palmer centre; that much is obvious. But he returned the favour with a wonderful trivela for the Chelsea forward to pursue early in the second half and is so good that even though he was probably just fouled for the second Palmer chance from a Rice pass, there might have been an element of the intentional dummy about it. His passing range is just daft.

 

SUBSTITUTES

EZRI KONSA (on for Stones, 46)
Called on to play in difficult circumstances and it showed. Again, Konsa did not do anything especially poor – aside from a substandard offside trap when he correctly identified Guehi was not properly tracking his man – but he was part of a defence which looked more vulnerable in the second half than the first, however coincidental that was in relation to his introduction.

 

TRENT ALEXANDER-ARNOLD (on for Walker, 65)
Within a few minutes of coming on, Alexander-Arnold found Toney in the area from a deep right-back position, then soon after made a great run to the byline and pulled a first-time ball back for Ivan Toney on the penalty spot. It was more than Walker had done all game in an attacking sense. His low cross flashed past the post in stoppage-time in a budget version of his wonderful Bosnia goal, and someone really should have been attacking it. Perhaps that position should not be considered settled.

 

JOE GOMEZ (on for Trippier, 65)
Not brilliant but better than what came beforehand.

 

IVAN TONEY (on for Kane, 65)
The very definition of a nuisance, giving Iceland something different to worry about: a penalty-box striker rather than the ever-roaming Kane. And how unfortunate he chose to exhibit precisely the same level of finishing from this particular game.

 

BUKAYO SAKA (on for Gordon, 65)
Won a free-kick. James Ward-Prowse isn’t here anymore, mate.

 

EBERECHI EZE (on for Palmer, 77)
Now has more caps than Jason Wilcox, but probably less of a say in Manchester United’s transfer business.