Euro 2020: England face crisis of identity just two games in - something needs to change

After England began their Euro 2020 campaign with a hard-fought win against Croatia, the Scotland game was supposed to be a walkover.

England and Scotland played out a 0-0 draw in their Euro 2020 match. (Image: Twitter/@England)

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. After England began their Euro 2020 campaign with a hard-fought win against Croatia, the Scotland game was supposed to be a walkover. But, as is always the case in sport, nothing is guaranteed. What was meant to be an easy fixture ended up being a slog. And suddenly the heat is back on in England.

Granted, anyone who’s followed English football knows this is nothing new. Indeed, there exists a train of thought that the English press builds up players only to tear them down.

It’s worth noting that England are not in a bad position at all. They’ve taken 4 points of their first two games and are on course for making the knockouts. But it is hard to ignore the feeling that something’s missing from this side.

The issue isn’t making it out of the group – at least as things stand. The issue, just like it was in the 2018 World Cup, is how England will fare against top opposition.

Again, it’s worth noting that Scotland might not fit many people’s definition of a ‘top side’. But they are well organised and hard to beat. A win – or even a goal – against such a side means a lot. England, as we know, got neither.

The inevitable questions have been asked after the 0-0 draw: what is going wrong, what can players do and the like. As things stand, there’s no need for mass hysteria just yet.

A few tweaks, however, are clearly needed ahead of what is a key match against the Czech Republic.

No Jack Grealish, no party?

Aston Villa playmaker and talisman Jack Grealish has, somewhat surprisingly, started neither of the two games thus far. The issue isn’t one of quality – everyone knows how good he is. The real dilemma would be who to drop.

The midfield trio seems pretty set, with Declan Rice, Mason Mount and Kalvin Phillips nailing their spots. Grealish has operated on the left for Villa, and he could realistically play there for England too.

That would, however, mean dropping Phil Foden – a big call given the obvious talent of the Manchester City lad. That being said, he did struggle slightly against Scotland.

Grealish does offer something different to Foden or – indeed anyone else in the side. And England looked bereft of a probing pass or some runs from the midfield and forward lines.

Playing Grealish would admittedly give England a different type of edge. It would also, however, require some tinkering on Southgate’s part to fit him into the side.

Release the handbrake for Euro 2020 success?

While watching England labour against Scotland, one couldn’t help but notice that there were side and backward passes aplenty. England had plenty of the ball; they just weren’t sure what to do with it.

The issue isn’t a creativity one either, which leads one to suspect that it could be down to managerial instructions. The aim, as of now, is to be cautious rather than play too freely.

What’s ironic is that England under Southgate played some of their best football in 2018 when they attacked with carefree abandon.

Again, that’s not to say that a full return to that is necessary. Indeed, England’s ultra attacking style left their defence wide open a lot of times.

In Euro 2020, England have kept two clean-sheets – but also scored only the one goal. Given the kind of attacking talent they possess, finding a balance shouldn’t be this much of an issue.

What about Harry Kane?

Of course, solving the Harry Kane dilemma might be easier said than done. The Tottenham and England skipper is easily one of the best striker’s of his generation. Yet he’s looked a shadow of his usual self so far.

Indeed, against Scotland he only touched the ball in the opposition area once. His impact on the game was so minimal that he was withdrawn for Marcus Rashford.

Southgate explained afterwards that they wanted someone to run at and behind the defence. Kane, for all his qualities, has lost a yard of pace due to injuries.

But he is still an effective focal point of the attack – it’s just that England aren’t playing to his strengths. Kane, when he does drop deep, leaves space for midfield and forwards runners.

Yet against Scotland, England’s midfield and forward line was surprisingly static. Playing with Kane in the line-up will require the people behind him to not just play to his strengths but pick him out with their passes too.

Kane’s struggles have summed up England’s tournament thus far – the quality is evident, but hasn’t quite shown up. For Southgate and England’s sake, he would hope to get the best out of this side starting with their next group game.

Shayne Dias

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