Go back in time to the Summer of 2018 and Southgate’s England had the English population believing that football was coming home again.
In the World Cup of 2018 no one was expecting much at all, so to reach the semi finals was a major achievement. Albeit with as easy a run as you could ask for. But fast forward to Euro 2020/21, the expectations as a nation are sky high, and rightly so, especially with the players at our disposal. Gareth Southgate knows that if England do not improve on their semi-final run this time out, it will be deemed as a failure this summer.
The story so far at Euro 2020/21
On paper it looks like England have got off to a good start. With only two games played (inc. the tougher side in the group and a derby game) they have taken four points meaning guaranteed qualification from the group. To add to this they have not conceded, and without tempting fate, the chance of the Czechs scoring against England is minimal.
But the reality is the overall performances have been completely unacceptable, especially last time out against the Scottish. The best way to explain it for me was; lethargic, disjointed and hesitant. Classic England some may say.
Of course the English being English are quick to blame our talisman and leading marksman ‘Harry Kane’ because it’s ‘easy’. The media are quick to support this view also, as its clickbait, especially as his name is already in the limelight regarding his future at Spurs. But it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Southgate to blame
If you look back at Southgate’s managerial career it’s hardly been a success. Some highlights include, finishing 19th in the table with Middlesbrough resulting in relegation and finishing bottom of the group at the 2015 Euros with the England U21’s team. We’ve almost been brainwashed as a nation into thinking he’s ‘the one’ because we beat Tunisia, Panama, Colombia and Sweden to reach a World Cup semi-final.
On a positive note Southgate has blooded a whole new generation of world class talent into the England fold during his tenure, calling up players in form rather than purely on reputation or that they play for a top four club. These are different principles to what previous England manager’s have applied.
But where does Southgate let himself down?
Tactics. It’s as simple as that. He’s “tactically inept”. It’s harsh, but it’s the reality. Obviously tactics alone don’t win you football games. However, they certainly give you the basic foundations and platform to play your best football by focussing on your teams strengths (e.g. player positioning) and hiding your weaknesses.
The easiest comparison in recent times would be the change in tactical set-up at Chelsea last season. This change was clear for all, from when Lampard was at the helm to when Thomas Tuchel replaced him mid-season and stamped his blueprint on the team. We all know how that ended… But the biggest catalyst was the shift from a 4 at the back system under Lampard to a 3 at the back system variant under Tuchel. Obviously there are other factors that come into play, such as application (e.g. advanced tactics – defend / attack / press / contain etc. ) and playing personnel but these are all aided by the tactical formation adopted.
Versus Scotland, everyone saw the tactics employed for the game were not working after about 30 minutes but nothing changed. Everyone bar Southgate that is. There was no Plan B, which is a huge worry.
Zero width throughout, limited press, and no transition from back to front meant England laboured to a 0-0 draw against the 3rd worst team in the tournament. Forget the rivalry, it’s a game England should be winning and comfortably, but they was set up to fail.
The scapegoat Kane was a lone and isolated figure upfront. The frontman had no service throughout. The team was disjointed, the gaps between Sterling, Foden and Kane were too great. From watching Spurs on a regular basis this year you see Kane come alive when he has willing runners beyond him looking to stretch the game. Unfortunately, England were always too deep to make this happen.
Will Southgate learn though?
Well we are about to find out versus the Czech Republic. Hopefully he continues reading to find out what he needs to do.
Formation change needed: 3-4-3 incoming
England have tried the 3-4-3 formation in the past with mixed success but with the players Gareth has at his disposal this formation and team picks itself (see below).
3-4-3 is Southgate’s solution. I’ll live and die by that statement. 3-4-3 is an attacking formation but it gives you that defensive stability as it becomes almost a 5-4-1 in defence. The balance of the team will be so much better with our defensive and attacking transitions. It gives England the spring board to aggressively impose themselves on the opposition by pressing higher and compressing the pitch due to the wing backs playing 10-15 yards further forward. This should result in more dominant spells of possession and more opportunities to win the ball back in dangerous areas, as the opposition is forced into errors trying to play out from the back.
In attack, the natural width is generated from Englands wing backs Chilwell and Walker who should get plenty of crossing opportunities into Harry Kane. They will be much happier to get forward in this new attacking role as they know they have the defensive cover supplied by the pace of Mings and James.
Mount will connect the defence to attack from back to front and the other midfield players will therefore have better options. It will all look better straight away. Against Scotland, it was never going to work, it had two defensive minded players in that midfield, the balance of that team was never going to deliver good football.
Harry Kane will no longer cut a lone figure of a man upfront. He will be able to drop into that false 9 position we know he loves to with the pace of Sterling and Sancho breaking the lines with Chilwell and Walker on the outside as a secondary point of call.
In defence, the ability to snuff out danger from Declan Rice means the back three should sleep easy at night. Maguire with his recent injuries would suit the middle of the back three, as he will not be forced into the channels and can sweep up with some well placed defensive positioning.
With Reece James and Tyrone Mings you have the defensive power and pace required in a back 3 system but also the ability to play out from the back as they are both comfortable on the ball and stepping into midfield. Mings solves the issue previously of having no left footed LCB as well. Chilwell and Walker as previously mentioned can form a 5 at the back when under pressure from the opposition, meaning there is less space and passing lanes available.
We will have to wait and see how England line-up against Czech Republic tonight. Hopefully for the sake of the nation Southgate has a Plan B.
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