Exclusive: Ex-England man picks ‘stand-out’ defender v Serbia who ‘reassured’ Southgate

Jason Soutar
England v Serbia: Dusan Vlahovic and Marc Guehi battle for the ball
Dusan Vlahovic and Marc Guehi battle for the ball

Former England centre-back Matt Upson believes Marc Guehi was the “stand-out” defender for the Three Lions against Serbia on Sunday.

England manager Gareth Southgate has put his trust in Guehi to fill the void left by Harry Maguire in the heart of his defence at Euro 2024.

The Crystal Palace defender passed a tricky test against Serbia with flying colours as Dusan Vlahovic and Aleksandar Mitrovic both struggled.

Speaking exclusively to Football365 (via luckyblock.com), Upson – who scored for England at the 2010 World Cup – explained what he liked about Guehi’s performance and why his partnership with John Stones works. He said:

“I was (impressed). I thought he was very proactive in the way he went about his job. When I say that, I mean when he went tight, he didn’t just go and get close, a couple of times really stepped in front, won the ball or forced a mistake.

“I thought he was very confident with his positioning. Him and Stones really covered each other well because when those balls were going in, Mitrovic doesn’t allow you to win the ball. He doesn’t try and win it himself, he just wants to smash into you to stop you heading it and Vlavovic is trying to get in the hole that you’ve left. That’s what he does.

“I thought they worked off each other really well. And then we ended up getting too deep because we were under pressure so had to defend a lot of the edge of the 18-yard box and into the penalty spot throughout the second half.

“Out of the back four, Guehi was the stand-out performer, because of the noise that had been around this defence. I thought they (Guehi and Stones) reassured a lot of people and probably Gareth Southgate.

“He hadn’t played a lot of games either as he had that injury. To play as well as he did with not that many games in the last couple of months…credit to him.”

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Going into the tournament in Germany, there were no doubts in Upson’s mind that Guehi was up to the task of replacing the injured Maguire this summer.

“I didn’t have doubts about him individually. He’s shown that he’s capable of coming in and doing a good job for England. There were probably mainly doubts about the team collectively defensively. Are we going to be a bit open? Are we going to start with the right kind of tempo?

“I thought we were really punchy with our passing and the first 20 minutes was good from England. That then built into the performance and then the back four carried it on from there.”

Asked if having Declan Rice in front of him makes Guehi’s job easier, Upson said:

“Yeah. I can’t speak highly enough of Rice. In terms of his role with England his personality, his attitude towards his job, he knows his role, he loves doing it, he’s got your back as a team-mate.

“I think he’s locked into that area, because there were two up a lot of the time so Stones and Guehi were probably occupied. They’re trying to drag them out of position or go on to them to stop them heading the ball and Rice was dropping in.

“It was quite a traditional English kind of game of football in many ways in terms of a fair few crosses into the box, quite a lot of long balls early on, certainly from Serbia. And it and it was it had that kind of feel to it. And I thought we stood up to the challenge.”

The pressure that came from that defensive “challenge” will benefit England going forward, Upson adds.

“It was good to be under pressure like that in the first game. I cast my mind back to Qatar and it was so comfortable scoring six goals against Iran. You don’t really find out too much about the group. So in some ways it was a benefit to see them under that kind of pressure.”

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