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Is burnout behind England’s Nations League misery?
Gareth Southgate’s side ended a long season with a heavy 4-0 loss to Hungary on Tuesday night.
Player tiredness is likely to be a significant factor behind England’s poor form, PA news agency analysis suggests.
Just over five months away from the World Cup in Qatar, the Three Lions are in the midst of their longest winless run since 2014 and their worst goalscoring sequence since 2007.
England failed to win any of their four Nations League fixtures in June, with draws against Germany and Italy sandwiched in between home and away defeats to Hungary.
Harry Kane was the only player to get on the scoresheet across the four games, via a late penalty in Munich.
Here, PA looks at the minutes racked up by Gareth Southgate’s key men this season.
Two in three squad members had played at least a full season
Eighteen members of Southgate’s 27-man squad had accumulated at least 3,420 minutes of playing time during the 2021-22 campaign – equivalent to a full 38-game season – before joining up with England.
Several of the players that Southgate used the most across the latest four games already had the highest number of minutes for club and country.
Before the squad gathered for the Nations League fixtures, West Ham’s Declan Rice had spent the most time on the pitch this season, at 4,807 minutes, closely followed by Tottenham’s Kane (4,777).
Both Rice and Kane were almost ever-present for their clubs this season, as West Ham reached the Europa League semi-finals with a relatively small squad and Spurs pushed for Champions League qualification having previously made the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup.
Despite this, Kane featured in all four games for England, starting three of them including Tuesday’s 4-0 thrashing. Rice also had three starts, although he remained on the bench during the Hungary debacle.
England’s lack of goals could be linked to Kane’s workload, plus the fact that his replacement for the Italy game – Tammy Abraham – had racked up plenty of minutes for Roma across the season.
Apart from Rice and Kane, Mason Mount, Harry Maguire and Kyle Walker were the only players picked by Southgate to start three out of the four games.
While Maguire and Walker had some recent respite at club level, Mount had played 4,158 minutes already in 2021-22, spread across 59 games.
Fatigue less of a factor for Euro 2020
Southgate’s key men had generally played fewer minutes before last summer’s Euro 2020 than they had this season.
Kane, for example, had just over 4,000 minutes in his legs ahead of joining up with England in June 2021, the equivalent of eight games fewer than this time round.
Rice has played 18 extra matches’ worth of minutes this season, having accumulated only 3,180 minutes of playing time in 2020-21.
Other mainstays from last summer’s run to the Euro 2020 final, such as Raheem Sterling, John Stones, Kalvin Phillips and Maguire, have struggled to nail down a regular spot for their club sides this term, either due to injury or competition for places.
In their cases, it could be that a lack of regular football has outweighed the benefits of playing fewer minutes this year compared with last.