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Question marks over John Stones' style for Southgate and England

Gareth Southgate's tenure in charge of England has not begun in earnest but it is already possible to imagine John Stones becoming a symbol of another disappointing era for the Three Lions.

If interim coach Southgate persists in trying to play the ball out from the back in the same manner as his team attempted to do in Friday's 3-0 World Cup qualifying win against Scotland, they will struggle to progress and the Manchester City defender could become the scapegoat.

Fashions come and go in football. An effective new style or formation gets copied across the game, generally losing its potency with each imitation. Teams at every level have attempted their own versions of tiki-taka and gegenpressing without ever reaching the heights of the sides that pioneered the tactics.

The latest trends in the Premier League revolve around the defensive line. Back fours are old hat and three centre-backs are the flavour of the month. The other fashion is dropping deep in possession to lure in the opposition and then passing the ball out from defence. Its flagbearer is Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola, the chicest manager in the game.

Barcelona turned this tactic into an art form, with central defenders going back to their own goalline to receive the ball from the goalkeeper. Guardiola is trying similar methods at the Etihad and Stones, as a ball-playing defender, is crucial to the way City intend to develop.

Inviting the opposition press is a dangerous game and one wayward pass can surrender possession on the edge of your own area. To use the ploy successfully, defenders need to be comfortable receiving the ball, able to pass with a minimum of touches -- one ideally, two at a pinch -- and move the play up field rapidly. It works through precision and passing. It is vital that players have superb technique.

Guardiola will assemble a group of defenders with these attributes before too long by dipping into the transfer market. The problem for Southgate is he does not have the option to recruit across the world. He is stuck with Englishmen and most lack the technique to play this way.

Stones has earned a reputation as a ball-playing centre-back for the wrong reasons. He has talent and can beat a man. The occasional Cruyff turn in his own area will adorn a highlight reel but for all the flashiness, the 22-year-old lacks composure on the ball. Against Scotland his tendency to dwell in possession offered opponents the chance to close him down. That led to hurried and inaccurate passing. At this stage of his career, he still lacks the technique to execute the theory.

The young centre-back is not the only one to blame. The movement of players in front of him was inadequate for a team attempting to operate in this manner. Liverpool's Jordan Henderson and Tottenham's Eric Dier are not comfortable receiving the ball facing their own goal. England struggled to get behind Scotland's press. Against better teams this style of football will be a recipe for disaster.

The Football Association's technical director Dan Ashworth laid out the team's ethos in the "England DNA" mission statement.

"Passing through the thirds," is one of the side's ambitions. A closer look at the nation's football DNA might throw up different ideas, though.

The main question should be simple: what do English players do well? The answers may not be palatable for some. They are strong physically, effective in challenges, dangerous when running into shooting positions and powerful when attacking loose balls. They thrive in the manic pace of the Premier League. In general, they lack a little composure and technique. They are at their best when at their most instinctive. It is a football nation of doers rather than thinkers.

Southgate criticised England's decision-making after the Scotland game, suggesting his players have the technical ability to build from the back.

"We want bravery but not stupidity," he said.

It would be courage bordering on foolishness for England to follow this thought process to its logical conclusion. That's at least until Ashworth can develop a new generation of competent ball-playing defenders. That time may be quite a long way off.

One of England's strengths is the ability of Southgate's full-backs to get up and down the line. Tottenham duo Danny Rose and Kyle Walker give the team width going forward and are a threat in the opposition half. Liverpool's Adam Lallana and Manchester City's Raheem Sterling are adept at drifting infield and creating space for Rose and Walker to put pressure on the rival full-backs. Both the Spurs defenders are more comfortable on the ball in their opponents' half than their own. Pulling them deep to play out from the back makes them less effective and highlights their weaknesses rather than strengths.

Stones has the ability to develop into a top class centre-half. For England at least, he needs the game to be simplified and spend less time on the ball. Rio Ferdinand should be the template for the City defender. Ferdinand had the ability to launch attacks for Manchester United but was adept at choosing the right time and place. United looked to start possession further away from their goal than is fashionable now and dallying in their own half was discouraged. Sir Alex Ferguson also set up the team so that Patrice Evra made himself available to his central defenders and midfielders as an outlet ball if they were struggling under a tight press. There was no reliable outlet for Stones at Wembley.

As a former central defender who was no slouch on the ball, Southgate might have some sympathy for the youngster. To get the best out of Stones it may help if England are less ambitious on the ball deep in their half and more pragmatic.

That way, the City defender could become a symbol of his international manager's success. Substance over style might be the order of the day.

Liverpool's contract quandary with Coutinho

Too often, Premier League players go away on international duty and cause trouble back at their clubs by professing their wishes to play elsewhere. Liverpool know the feeling well. Luis Suarez was a serial offender, expressing his urge to get away from Anfield at almost every Uruguay game during his final season in the Premier League.

Philippe Coutinho is different. The Brazilian hit the headlines for scoring a spectacular goal against Argentina and then appeared to make it clear to his international teammates that he is happy playing under Jurgen Klopp.

The 24-year-old is only 18 months into a five-year contract thought to be worth in the region of £70,000 per week but if he continues his fine run of form, the interest of Real Madrid and Barcelona will grow. This presents a conundrum for the club.

Coutinho's salary is less than half the wages paid to Liverpool's highest earner. Do the club sit tight or renegotiate a deal now?

Daniel Sturridge was given a five-year contract extension two years ago, which did not work out quite as planned. Sterling, by contrast, failed to get the pay rise he wanted and moved to Manchester City. More recently, Klopp was handed a six-year contract barely nine months into his Liverpool tenure.

How they handle Coutinho will say much about Liverpool's ambition. It would be a surprise if the Brazilian is not rewarded for his growing influence.