We are currently 24 minutes into the final match of Euro 2024 between England and France. The English team is performing well, appearing confident and in control. They are dominating possession and taking the lead. England is strategically advancing from the back, almost playfully challenging France. However, a mistake occurs when Harry Maguire’s pass intended for Luke Shaw is intercepted by Antoine Griezmann, exposing England’s defense. With England overcommitted, Griezmann has an opportunity to pass to Kylian Mbappé, who easily gets past Maguire and scores, bringing France one step closer to victory.
The inquiry has started. Why did Gareth Southgate remain with Maguire? What made him so faithful? Was he unable to anticipate it? The signs were evident to everyone. They were difficult to overlook. Another sign was evident here in Skopje, where the risks were low and the threat to England was minimal until Maguire’s mistake in the 24th minute sparked North Macedonia’s energy. A wayward pass from the center-back initiated an attack that led to the home team calling for a penalty after Eljif Elmas fell.
If Maguire had successfully avoided consequences, it was due to chance rather than skill. He made a careless mistake when giving the ball to Bojan Miovski and was lucky to not be penalized for his clumsy tackle on Elmas. Although the North Macedonia forward may have exaggerated his fall, Maguire was not in command of the situation. To put it simply, this incident was more deserving of a penalty than the one that led to North Macedonia’s eventual lead. This was after VAR Michal Ocenas seemingly decided it would be amusing to ruin Rico Lewis’s first international appearance.
This is not about picking on Maguire. Others had a difficult night as England grasped for cohesion on an awkward pitch, struggled to keep their cool against niggly opponents and laboured to a 1-1 draw in their final qualifier for the Euros. When it came to regrets, nobody had more than Ollie Watkins. This was the striker’s chance to stay ahead of Callum Wilson, Ivan Toney and Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the battle to be Harry Kane’s understudy but Watkins failed to take it, managing only 11 touches before going off after 58 minutes.
To be fair to Watkins, England’s attack was not very active. Phil Foden showed promise as the No 10, but Jack Grealish did not make enough of an impact in his third start since the 2018 World Cup. Instead of taking charge, this was another instance of Grealish not fully utilizing his abilities. He still appears more suited to coming off the bench.
England has alternative choices for their defensive lineup. The main worry is Maguire, who has reclaimed his spot at Manchester United and is undoubtedly a reliable, courageous, and dedicated defender. Despite some excessive criticism, it is still hard to overlook the mistakes that weaken his performance.
A single mistake can greatly impact knockout football matches. Despite performing well at the previous World Cup, Maguire allowed Olivier Giroud to score the winning goal for France against England in the quarter-finals. Unfortunately, there have been several similar errors, including one against Italy in March and an own-goal against Scotland in September.
Southgate has stood strong, choosing to not remove Maguire and relying on his connection with John Stones. However, it is uncertain if the manager’s tolerance is dwindling. North Macedonia specifically aimed at Maguire during certain points of the game. There was a lack of fast reactions in the second half, but Declan Rice saved the day. On the other hand, England’s second center-back, Marc Guéhi, breezed through the game and continued to make a good impression.
Guéhi’s rise in prominence is putting Maguire in a vulnerable position. The Crystal Palace defender may lack experience, but he possesses speed, awareness, and poise with the ball. Guéhi is currently ahead of Lewis Dunk, Fikayo Tomori, and Ezri Konsa in the hierarchy and is pushing for a spot alongside Stones. Meanwhile, Maguire’s claim for the partnership is losing strength. He needs to step up or risk being a liability for England.