John Stones insists England’s don’t need a five-man defence against the top teams at the World Cup

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Can one good result and performance wipe away six months of struggle all by itself? It seems we are about to find out.

There was a moment, when England trailed 2-0 to Germany at Wembley in September, when it was tempting to wonder if the national team would ever play well again.

John Stones insists England do not need to field a five man defence against the best teams

They recovered to draw that game 3-3, but still there was enough in it to indicate trouble for England when they reached Qatar a matter of weeks later.

Now, after a 6-2 stroll against Iran in their opening game in Group B, the six games without a win that preceded it already seem like a distant memory.

On Friday night against USA, however, will be a game that asks England different questions. Iran were surprisingly meek on Monday, but the Americans will not be.

If England have not quite shaken off the uncertainty that characterised their football in the lead-up to this World Cup, then this might be the night when it shows itself again.

England boss Gareth Southgate is expected to persist with a four-man defence versus the USA

England boss Gareth Southgate is expected to persist with a four-man defence versus the USA

‘We came into this tournament with intent and we played well,’ said manager Gareth Southgate on Thursday. ‘We exploited the opponent on the day but the next two games are going to be completely different.

‘Now we play a team who are on one point. They have high motivation playing against England, they play in a way that is different from Iran.

‘They are going to test more our ability to deal with pressure on the ball and they are going to be harder to break down because of that. We have to make sure we have the answers to those questions.’

Stones believes that England's versatility and ability to play different systems is very useful

Stones believes that England’s versatility and ability to play different systems is very useful

After placing his preference to play three central defenders to one side for the Iran game, Southgate is expected to play a back four again this evening at the remote Al Bayt stadium north of Doha.

The chances are this will ask more questions of central pairing Harry Maguire and John Stones than were posed on Monday.

Stones, the Manchester City defender, spoke about this yesterday as he sat down to talk at England’s training ground.

There is a theory that the reason Southgate chooses to play three at the back against the better teams is to offer some protection to Maguire, who has endured poor club form for as long as anybody can remember.

But asked if he and his partner would need that kind of security blanket against a team such as Brazil or France in the later stages, Stones said: ‘Personally, no, but if we come up against those teams it would be down to the manager and then down to us to adapt to a new system.

Stones praised the performance of his central-defensive partner Harry Maguire versus Iran

Stones praised the performance of his central-defensive partner Harry Maguire versus Iran

‘It’s good that we are versatile and able to go from a four to a five. In the Euros two summers ago we even switched systems within games and did it well.’

All footballers need confidence, whatever their level. From that perspective, the result against Iran served a priceless purpose. ‘There was definitely a click, or a desire to put things right,’ nodded Stones.

‘We had to come out of a bad period. I have said it before, but sometimes they can be beneficial for us as players and as a team. It is not easy to go through those times, but if we have them we will come out the other side stronger and better.’

Maguire’s performance in the opening game went some way to quietening the talk about the Manchester United man’s selection. His defending was impeccable and he also hit the bar with a header when the game was goalless.

While recognising that the USA will provide a sterner test this evening, Stones spoke glowingly about his friend and team-mate.

He added: ‘Harry hasn’t played much at his club but to come in and play like he did, well I don’t think anyone saw a bit of rust on him.

Southgate is hoping to see focus and determination from his side against the USA

Southgate is hoping to see focus and determination from his side against the USA

‘That’s great credit to him and I’m so happy for him. For all of us to start off well and get that rhythm back and make massive strides from the last four games, which we weren’t happy with — to put that to bed and get our standards back on the biggest stage is good for us going forward.’

America were the better side against Wales in their opening game. That they did not win propels manager Gregg Berhalter and his players into this fixture with a sense of purpose and need.

In the States, failure to qualify from this group would badly dent a sense of esteem that has been slowly growing across the Atlantic.

‘We have to press the reset button and find the same psychology and determination we had before the first game,’ said Southgate. ‘The risk is thinking this will be easy. The aim is to qualify and if that takes three games that’s OK.’

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