England must tighten up their vulnerable defence to give themselves a chance in France next summer

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Having a solid back four is a thing of the past for England. Over the last two decades the Three Lions have boasted world-class defenders, who were seen as up there with the best in the world.

You only have to go back 10 years to the 2006 World Cup, where even England’s substitutes rank higher than the current crop. The so called ‘Golden Generation’ of Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and Ashley Cole were backed up by Jamie Carragher, Sol Campbell, Wayne Bridge and a versatile Owen Hargreaves on the bench.

We could even go further back to the 90’s, where die-hard tacklers like Tony Adams and Stuart Pearce were around and commanding the penalty area.

In recent times, however, the mean and patriotic England defence of old has been replaced with little more than mediocrity. The Manchester United pair of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are starting to string together successive starts for the national team, and even though the back four has been solid since the nightmare in Brazil, this is worrying for England fans.

Both have shown promising signs of progression and improvement since their terrible starts for United, however, the fact is they haven’t done enough to warrant a regular starting place in Roy Hodgson’s XI.

One strong point in England’s defence is vice-captain Gary Cahill, whose role as the most reliable at the back has been unchallenged. Cahill has won every major club trophy in just three seasons at Chelsea, however unlike England’s other starlets his name did not come into the limelight until his mid 20’s.

This may be the case for Jones and Smalling. The pair might build on their already vast experience and become late bloomers in the England ranks. They may even become key players in future World Cup and Euro Championships squads. Center backs usually peak in their late 20’s, which gives the twosome a few years yet to prove many doubters wrong.

There is, however, the small issue of players coming through the ranks with unbelievable potential. Everton’s John Stones is tipped by many to be England captain one day and I believe he deserves to be Cahill’s partner in front of Joe Hart.

Not only is he a towering centre-back, but the 21-year-old is calm on the ball, never panics and has two years top flight experience at a very young age.

Other promising signs for Roy Hodgson is the emergence of Nathanial Clyne, who has just completed a dream move to Liverpool after an outstanding season at Southampton.

Glen Johnson has finally moved on and Clyne is the perfect man to fill his boots. With his electrifying pace he has tonnes more ability and excitement than the man he replaces for both club and country. Liverpool fans will be rubbing their hands and gearing up to see what he brings come August.

I do believe Hodgson will come good one day and lead England to greater things, but some of his decisions have to be questioned. Deploying Jordan Henderson to right-back in the victory over Slovenia was an odd one, especially with Clyne on the bench ready to stamp his mark on the international scene.

Imagine Sven-Goran Eriksson replaced Neville with midfield maestro Paul Scholes during the early 2000’s; it just wouldn’t happen.

Hodgson holds the key to England’s fortunes and has an array of tough-tackling talent to choose from when picking his squads. Let’s hope he transforms a bench-worthy back four into a well-drilled fearsome quartet who are ready and able to shut out Europe’s elite.​

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