Ashley Cole has criticised Declan Rice for failing to recognise where the ‘danger’ was before Youri Tielemans’ opening goal in England’s 2-0 defeat to Belgium.
Tielemans received the ball unmarked on the edge of the box in the 10th minute and the Leicester midfielder’s driven strike deflected in off Tyrone Mings to break the deadlock at Leuven’s Den Dreef stadium.
Dries Mertens doubled the hosts’ lead with an exquisite free-kick in the 24th minute and Roberto Martinez’s men – currently the top-ranked side in international football – kept hold of their advantage to end England’s hopes of reaching the Nations League finals.
But Cole was less than impressed with Rice’s display on Sunday evening and felt the West Ham midfielder was partly to blame for Tielemans having so much space to shoot for Belgium’s opening goal.
‘I think he got attracted more towards Lukaku,’ Cole said.
‘I think that line (taken by Tielemans) should have been his recovery run.
‘Look where this ball ends up, that would have been Declan running onto that.
‘Now the ball has gone behind him and he’s chasing it. He doesn’t see where the danger is.
‘If he had taken that straight run, he would have had [Eric] Dier with Lukaku and then you have that little bit of balance on the opposite side of the box for any balls that are played off Lukaku.’
Rice has been heavily linked with Cole’s former club, Chelsea, for some time and the Blues are reportedly eyeing a move for the 21-year-old in the January transfer window, with Frank Lampard known to be an admirer.
The West Ham vice-captain was part of Chelsea’s academy from 2006, when he was released at the age of 14.
Southgate was of course disappointed that his side failed to book their place in the Nations League finals but felt there were reasons to be cheerful and singled out Grealish for praise.
‘Today was a great game for us to see him in,’ the England head coach said.
‘I couldn’t speak highly enough of his performance.
‘I thought Jack Grealish had an absolutely outstanding game. Losing Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford, we lose a lot of speed. But I can’t fault the attacking play until the last chance.
‘I saw what I knew I would see from Jack, someone with the bravery to play. He took the ball in tight areas, his technique was good, we knew he would buy a lot of free-kicks. I thought he was outstanding – he should be delighted.
‘I explained to him what we wanted to see when we brought him in in September.’
‘I thought we were excellent. I couldn’t have enough praise for the players.
‘If you play at the level we did tonight, I think we will win more games than we lose.’