Adam Wharton confident he can prove the answer to England's midfield problems

Adam Wharton confident he can prove the answer to England's midfield problems

The big question for Gareth Southgate ahead of England's final group game against Slovenia is a familiar one: how to have more control in possession?

England were dreadful on the ball in the dismal 1-1 draw with Denmark, and disastrously deep without it.

Southgate is considering abandoning his experiment with Trent Alexander-Arnold in midfield, admitting after Sunday’s game that England have still not replaced Kalvin Phillips, who starred at the last Euros but has barely had a good game since

Conor Gallagher came off the bench for Alexander-Arnold against Serbia and Denmark, leaving him at the front of the queue to start in Cologne on Tuesday, but, for all his pressing qualities, the Chelsea midfielder is loose in possession and hardly a perfect solution for a side seeking more balance and rhythm.

So how about Crystal Palace's Adam Wharton, who appears well-suited to being the ball-playing midfielder England are so obviously missing?

Asked if he believes he can be the new Phillips, Wharton said simply: "Yeah.

"And so do the other players in similar positions, who think they could have a positive effect on the team.

"I have got belief that no matter who, where or when I play football that I can affect a game. I think you have to think like that.

"If I think, 'I can’t handle this', then what am I doing here? That’s the way I look at it now.

"I believe I can affect any game I play in, so I am just making sure I am ready if I am called upon to help."

Southgate knows midfielders who specialise in keeping the ball and setting tempo remain scarce in English football and the manager has candidly said that he has been waiting for a player like Wharton for "seven or eight years".

"I don’t necessarily look at myself being special or anything like that. It’s just the way I play," said Wharton.

“If I was to describe my game I would just say, ‘It’s pretty simple but effective.’ I’ve been playing a lot deeper in the midfield in the Premier League.

“If you’ve got great players in attack, like the Bellinghams, the Fodens, then you have to get them in the pockets.

“All I want to do if you’ve got players like that is give them the ball because that’s when they come alive to produce bits of magic, create chances, score goals, things like that.

“When I’m playing with top players who can produce moments like that, all I’m going to do is give them the ball as much as I can. So if they’re in the pocket and they’re open, I’m going to give it them.”

Southgate has also said he believes Wharton and Kobbie Mainoo, 19, could develop into rhythm-setting midfielders like Germany’s Toni Kroos and Croatia's Luka Modric, who have made Real Madrid tick during an era of unprecedented success at the highest level.

Adam Wharton impressed on his England debut (The FA via Getty Images)
Adam Wharton impressed on his England debut (The FA via Getty Images)

"I think all midfielders want to try and control the game because it gives you a better chance to win the game," Wharton said, when asked about the comparison.

"Even watching them, especially in the first game [against Scotland] I thought Kroos pretty much controlled the game, dropping deep, playing out and playing it forward to players they had in attack. That's where they caused a lot of damage.

"I do take bits of their game to help mine because they're top players who have had great careers. I'll try and get as many medals and trophies as them."

Wharton, though, believes the best holding midfielder in the business is Manchester City's Rodri, who is also starring at the Euros for Spain.

"You see how consistent he’s been in the last few seasons and the way he plays. He rarely has a bad game," he said.

“He’s got a bit of everything. He’s good on the ball, stops attacks, keeps teams penned in. When they clear it, he’s always there to clean it up.

“He isn’t dribbling past five players. You don’t need to do that in that position.

“He just keeps it, gives it and keeps the ball moving to move the opposition. That’s when the gaps come and you can give it to the great players at the top of the pitch.”

"When I watch good players you naturally take little bits," he added.

"You might see them do a certain movement or make a run that creates space and you might think ‘when I am in that position, I might try that because I know it will leave space here’.

"I think it is just little things from all the top players. Everyone has different attributes. If you can improve on as many as possible then ultimately you will be a better player.

"[Take] the France-Netherlands match last night: I thought there was a few movements from [N'Golo] Kante off the ball. I really like him as a player. The work he does. How much he affects the game. Very good.

“But yes, a few little movements he made, nothing much but just short, sharp off players to receive the ball."

The limp draw with Denmark has ramped up the pressure on England in Germany, with Southgate acknowledging afterwards that some of his players are struggling to cope with the weight of expectations on the squad.

Wharton, however, appears remarkably unruffled for a 20-year-old who was playing for Championship Blackburn in the first half of last season, and insists he does not feel nervous at the prospect of stepping up for his country.

"Not really, no," he said. “I don't think about pressure too much.

"It just comes with it. The way I look at it, I'm just playing football. I've done it all my life, if I can do it every day why can't I do it for the next three weeks?"