England’s defence key to World Cup 2018 success, says John Barnes


John Barnes believes England's defensive players hold the key to World Cup success despite the media's focus on attacking options.

John Barnes believes England’s defenders and goalkeepers have to perform if they ‘want to go far’ at the World Cup in Russia.

The ex-England winger says Gareth Southgate’s side must put more emphasis on solidity at the back, especially in the latter stages of the tournament.

“We always look at the attacking players, you’re talking about Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli,” Barnes told Sky Sports. “I think the defenders will be very important, and the goalkeeper.”

England have conceded just three goals in their last 10 matches – including goalless draws against Germany and Brazil – a record they will look to maintain if they are to have a successful World Cup campaign.

“When we don’t have the ball we have to defend as a team,” Barnes said.

“I don’t think we can just play with all these attacking players and think we’re just going to score.”

With Jordan Henderson set play ahead of Eric Dier as England’s holding midfielder in their opener against Tunisia on Monday, Barnes thinks Southgate has made the right choice.

“It’s the first game so it seems we are going to play a very attacking team with one holding midfield player,” he added.

“[Henderson] can get forward and create as well, so I think for this particular game it’s probably the right decision.”

England face Belgium on June 28 – one of the pre-tournament favourites – and Barnes believes this is the stage to partner Henderson with Dier.

“When you play better opposition, you need to protect the back three. The further we go in the tournament, I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t play both of them.”