MARTIN KEOWN: We need a new centre back to step up for England and now is the time to prove it…but it’s Levi Colwill who excites me most

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MARTIN KEOWN: We need a new centre back to step up for England and now is the time to prove it…but it’s Levi Colwill who excites me most

  • England’s next two games is the perfect chance for centre-backs to step up 
  • Levi Colwill, Marc Guehi , Fikayo Tomori and Lewis Dunk in running to start 
  • England face Ukraine on Saturday before Scotland 150th anniversary clash 

This camp represents the perfect opportunity for England’s four new central defenders to go into tonight’s Euro 2024 qualifier against Ukraine and Tuesday’s 150th anniversary friendly with Scotland and prove why they deserve to play international football.

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Harry Maguire should start at centre back against Ukraine. He has often been used as a scapegoat at Manchester United — unfairly, in my opinion — and totally justified his inclusion in England’s squad for the 2022 World Cup by excelling throughout the tournament.

Levi Colwill, Marc Guehi, Fikayo Tomori and Lewis Dunk only have eight caps between them. But with the injury to England’s finest John Stones, who from this quartet will show they are ready to step up next to Maguire?

The emphasis on developing the skillset needed by a centre back has clearly changed over time. Academy coaches now teach central defenders how to develop play from the back.

Levi Colwill has been fast-tracked to the Chelsea first team and is in line for an England debut

Levi Colwill has been fast-tracked to the Chelsea first team and is in line for an England debut

Gareth Southgate has some big calls to make in choosing who he picks in central defence

Gareth Southgate has some big calls to make in choosing who he picks in central defence 

Despite not featuring for Man Utd Harry Maguire remains a big part of England's success

Despite not featuring for Man Utd Harry Maguire remains a big part of England’s success 

The Premier League is full of possession-based teams and we are averaging 949 passes per game — more than ever before. But the basics of defending should never change. 

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Being able to read the game. Identifying danger early. Taking the ball off your opponent. Being dominant in the air. Having the right mindset and mentality. Being aggressive and determined.

You need to spend time on the training ground working on the details of defending — marking from crosses, not getting too tight to your opponent when the ball is played in to their feet, dealing with one-v-one situations when your full back has left your side. Central defenders need all these key attributes — as well as, now, being able to make a telling forward pass.

It is difficult to have all of them. Bobby Moore was the best England defender we have seen but even he was accused of lacking pace. He made up for that with everything else he had to offer.

Colwill, Guehi, Tomori and Dunk all have their strengths as well as areas they need to develop.

Lewis Dunk's excellent form with Brighton could see him earn a second cap for his country

Lewis Dunk’s excellent form with Brighton could see him earn a second cap for his country 

Palace defender Guehi is quick and mobile

Tomori has won a Serie A title whilst with AC Milan

Marc Guehi and Fikayo Tomori are two more players vying for that centre-back slot 

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Colwill, the youngest of this quartet at 20, has been fast-tracked into the fold but has got everything in his locker except experience. He is the most exciting of the four, though we need to be cautious given he has only made 21 Premier League appearances.

Guehi, 23, is quick, mobile and decent in possession but needs to be more dominant in the air. Tomori, 25, can spot danger but could do better from crosses. Dunk, 31, is underrated in his long-range passing and marking from crosses but can look vulnerable in one-v-one situations.

When you represent your country as a young international, there will always be those who doubt whether you belong at this level. I faced those accusations myself.

The most important thing is to have a powerful self-belief. Relish it. Enjoy it. Look around at all the wonderful talent in the midfield and front lines and prove you deserve to be part of the defensive future of this emerging England team.



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