The heatwave, pints upon pints and Kieran Trippier’s free kick against Croatia. Summer 2018 forged unforgettable memories and united a nation so divided. Don’t worry I won’t get political. Gareth Southgate’s England reached the World Cup semi-finals in Russia, our best finish in a tournament since Italia 90. Expectations were exceeded by the squad and the manager, so much so the latter got an OBE. We’re English, of course we’ll over hype everything!
But forget the nostalgia and the hope of ‘it coming home’, since their magical run, the Three Lions haven’t been great. Nations League 2018, a chance to bring home some ‘silverware’. But yet again we fell short against a Holland side we arguably should’ve beaten on the day. Fast forward to 2019, as usual, England have cruised through the qualifying stages, apart from yesterday’s shock 2-1 defeat to Czech Republic.
Calling for Southgate’s head after yesterday’s result alone would be reactionary. No doubt. But if you put this result in context with everything since Russia and delve deep into how we won games, I don’t see a world class manager that can take this new golden generation of English talent to the next level.
I like Gareth Southgate and really want him to do well. He genuinely seems like a humble and classy bloke that has worked hard to get to the position he’s in today. That waistcoat will never be forgotten, iconic. But breaking down our World Cup run, the Nations League game and yesterday’s game rings alarm bells for this England side:
Luck of the draw?
We got incredibly lucky with our World Cup run. Giants like Spain and Germany crashed out early, essentially paving an easy route to the final. It took a last minute header to beat Tunisia and penalties to edge past Columbia. Panama and Sweden were hardly tough games. Moreover, as soon as we came across genuinely world class opposition in Belgium and Croatia, we folded on all 3 occasions. Sure, we got to a semi-final, but with that run, if we didn’t, we’d be calling for Southgate’s head.
As aforementioned with the header, England were so poor in front of goal. The reliance on set pieces and tap-ins was astonishing. Harry Kane’s golden boot was perhaps the worst in World Cup history, in terms of quality of goals. Hardly tactical genius from Southgate, instead we were lucky to have tall players and that we finally learnt how to take spot kicks.
We severely lacked creativity in the middle of the pitch, shown once again yesterday and in games prior. Jordan Henderson is hard working and a Champions League winning captain no doubt. But can’t create chances and orchestrate play. Declan Rice and Eric Dier the same. Of course the players on the pitch are to blame for mistakes. But Gareth can’t avoid criticism, no matter how nice of a guy he is.
Favoritism over form
When you have James Maddison, arguably the best player outside the traditional Top 6, running games, creating chances and scoring goals, being left out of previous squads, it does make you question the manager’s judgement. Only now the Leicester midfielder has been selected, but missed yesterday’s game through illness.
But the case of Maddison represents a wider issue. The big club bias. Roy Hodgson was notorious for picking players based on reputation and club rather than form. Southgate isn’t as bad as the now Crystal Palace manager, but some of his squad choices are still questionable:
Selecting and starting a terribly out of form Marcus Rashford ahead of an in form Tammy Abraham makes no sense. Michael Keane has been part of a Everton defence currently in the relegation zone, yet is starting ahead of Tomori. Danny Rose ahead of Ben Chilwell is also suspect.
Yes man or ‘the one’?
Gareth Southgate could definitely prove me wrong. The support and the relationship he has with the squad is really refreshing and overrated or not, he did deliver a historic World Cup finish last year. This is a generation of serious English talent and we cannot afford to waste it again like we did in the 2000s. The former Aston Villa defender is a safe bet for the FA, the ‘yes’ man that will say all the right things expected of an England manager. But if we want to show ambition as a country, perhaps he isn’t the one, purely from a tactical standpoint.
Do you think Southgate is the right man for the job? Let us know on Twitter @TasteofFtbl