Gareth Southgate has been given to coach one of the better English teams in decades. But somehow, they have never quite obtained the sought-after results or performed up to the high expectations of the global English-speaking media. The bottom line is the lads are good and young and getting better, but they are not yet “that good.”
Lowering expectations at home might benefit this squad as they are good, but not at the level of the favorites and certainly not the fifth-best team in the world, FIFA rankings aside. Going into their cup games with humility might be the ticket—being underestimated is always an advantage. This team is young and have been together for several years now—this may not be their cup, but the next one could be.
If ever there was ever a team that needed a reality check it is England. They have to know they had home-field advantage and officiating largesse throughout Euro 2022 and did not deserve to beat Denmark. It has to have been a wake-up call to find that the moment they did not have that home field and officiating largesse, in the Nations League, they lost twice to Hungary and once to Italy and were relegated to the B-zone.
At least, one would hope, that in their UEFA World Cup qualifiers, winning over Andorra, San Marino, and Albania, were not considered accomplishments. Drawing with Poland and Hungary when it mattered, though, should have rung some bells, right? Their non-Euro Wembley 3-3 draw with Germany was also telling, no?
So, what is Southgate to do?
First, he has to deal with his unfortunate injury depletion. Thankfully, this team is built on a plethora of generational talent and there are players galore to choose from. The squad complete, he can move on to putting a team on the pitch that represents the Three Lions’ strengths which are in midfield and offense and certainly not on defense.
Second, he has to stop being timid in his approach to opponents. England play to draw first and then see if a chance materializes to win. What they should use as their template moving forward is their play against Germany from the 70th through the 85th minutes of that 3-3 home draw. In that short period, fifteen minutes, Luke Shaw (71’), Mason Mount (75’), and Harry Kane (83’) scored.
The English side fell short at the very end of the game and Germany drew even via Kai Havertz at the 87th but if they could have held on for another few minutes. Unfortunately, look at where Havertz was when he headed in the final goal. So, the third thing they need to do is realize a three-man defense will not work against top opposition, their defenders are just not that good. Go with a four-man back line and that will give your midfielders more range. England is a 4-4-2 team, and the balance is a keeper plus 4-defending and 6-attacking scheme with the four in the middle able to track back as needed when attacked en masse.
Southgate has been given a gift of a very talented team, one that could go places if managed correctly, but expecting these players to overcome a poor line-up or a flawed strategy is simply not a fair request of them. Place this generation on the right plane and line them up to their strengths and they can do well in Qatar.
Photo: Gareth Southgate, Shutterstock ID 1543352732, by Belish.
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