Since the World Cup England have conceded 10 goals in 11 matches. On the face of it this is not a record to prompt concern.
But, in the afterglow of a free-scoring victory over Kosovo, the shock of leaking three in one go in Southampton on Tuesday night let off some alarm bells.
The last time England conceded three goals in a game – against the Netherlands in June – it ended their involvement in the Nations League at the semi-final stage.
If they are exposed to the same extent against more parsimonious defensive operations at Euro 2020 they will be heading for the exit door again.
Faced with bold opponents who were prepared to press high and attack in numbers, England’s defence made uncharacteristic errors against Kosovo.
It did not matter to the result on the night because of the fireworks from England’s frontline in a rip-roaring qualifier but it is an area of concern as they move towards the finals.
“We’re scoring some brilliant goals and creating some brilliant chances and we look so dangerous on the break. When we turn over the ball we look frightening at times. We can hurt a lot of teams with that,” said England midfielder Jordan Henderson.
Yet he also warned: “But football is about defending as well and you need to keep clean sheets. That’s important if you want to win things.
“We need to make sure we’re defending properly and then the forward play will look after itself.
“They weren’t great goals from our point of view. That was a very sloppy second half.”
Henderson blamed a lack of concentration – total brain fade in the case of Michael Keane’s foul-up which gave the Valon Berisha a goal inside the first minute while Harry Maguire was at fault for Kosovo’s other two goals – but there was also system failure when England became overloaded.
“In tournament football you’ll get teams that may like to sit in and counter-attack, and there will be teams who like a high press. You’re going to have to cope with both,” said Henderson.
“Against Kosovo I felt we had more space going forward – you could see that in the play and the chances we created – but on the other side we need to make sure we’re defending as a team.”
The England manager does have the option of reverting back to a five-man defence.
“I certainly wouldn’t rule it out,” said Southgate. “We are very open-minded on how we might need to be looking forward and how we might need to look against the top teams.”
He also has alternatives in central defensive personnel.
But the problem is neither Manchester City’s John Stones, who endured a shocker against the Dutch, or Liverpool’s Joe Gomez are playing regularly in the Premier League.