Euro 2020: Why Gareth Southgate needs to unleash his attacking weapons?

England's Euro 2020 campaign has gotten off to a slow start, with only one goal scored in two games. It may well be time for Southgate to forsake his cautious approach.

England players prior to the start of the match against Croatia; Credit: [email protected]

For a team that is considered one of the favourites to lift the trophy, England’s slow start to Euro 2020 has only generated additional concerns about their ability to progress further in the competition. England were considered a contender for the European Championship championship, with a youthful and energetic group at their disposal. However, the Three Lions’ performances in both of their group matches have failed to persuade either their fans or critics. They have scored only one goal so far in the tournament. It was scored just before the hour mark in their opening match, meaning Gareth Southgate’s side have not found the back of the net in more than 120 minutes on the pitch – a worrying stat for the Three Lions.

The improvement under Southgate has been clearly evident, with England reaching the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup and UEFA Nations League. Many expected the Three Lions to make that extra step in Euro 2020, with a chance of reaching the final still a possibility. However, the early signs are not promising, and their coach must take responsibility for taking a cautious approach on the pitch. His decision to play Kieran Trippier as left-back made the headlines in their opener against Croatia.

A right-back starting on the left of a back four despite having two seasoned left-backs – Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell – in his squad raised a lot of eyebrows. The head coach believed that the Atletico Madrid full-back starting next to Mings, who was making his debut appearance at a major tournament, will be helpful for the Aston Villa defender. The presence of two holding midfielders – Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice – in both their match-day squads left many surprised.

Lack of runners

Not so long ago, Southgate was praised for his brave team selection as he picked a lot of promising young players in the squad. Right-back Reece James is the youngest defender in the squad at 21 – same as Phil Foden (Man City) and Jadon Sancho (Dortmund), while Bukayo Saka (Arsenal) is only 19. Midfielders Mason Mount (Chelsea) and Declan Rice (West Ham) are only 22, while Jude Bellingham of Borussia Dortmund – the youngest player in the entire squad – is just 17 years old.

Marcus Rashford (23), Jack Grealish (25), and Dominic Calvert-Lewin (24) might have been playing club football for a while but they are relatively young as well. It was up to Southgate now to get the best out of them. To the coach’s credit, he either started or brought some of these promising young talents from the bench in both these games. The likes of Foden and Mount have been a regular for England in both their group matches.

Four of the front six are ball-playing midfielders, with Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling the only two out-and-out attackers. This might help in retaining the ball but can prevent their attacking mobility, which has been England’s main problem till now. Most of their players are happy to drop back to receive the ball, but not many are willing to run behind the opposition’s last line of defence.

Not like England don’t have attacking options at their disposal – it’s the opposite. Southgate is spoilt for choices in the final third. Rashford, Saka, Calvert-Lewin, and Sancho are almost guaranteed starters for any team on a given day, but they have found game time hard to come by in Euro 2020. Calvert-Lewin has made only one appearance as a substitute, whereas Rashford has made two appearances – both from the bench. However, Saka and Sancho are yet to play a minute in this tournament.

Time to go direct

As impressive a season Saka has had, he is still only 19, hence Southgate can be forgiven for not including him. The same, however, cannot be said about Sancho. He has been one of the key players for Borussia Dortmund over the last few seasons. Besides the number of goals he has scored for the German team, the 21-year-old has been a regular goal creator.

The Englishman has assisted 20 goals in each of his last three seasons across all competitions for Dortmund. While Erling Haaland might take most of the credit, Sancho’s involvement in those goals is massive. With England struggling to create chances in the final third, Sancho can be the provider for Harry Kane like he sets up Haaland at Dortmund. He could very well be the answer to their problem.

Another concern is seeing Southgate prefer Sterling over Rashford. Although the Manchester City winger scored a goal in this Euros, his overall performance has not been up to the standards expected of a player of his calibre. Meanwhile, the Manchester United forward is a willing runner, who is not afraid to take on the opponents in the final third.

Besides, Rashford thrives when he plays on the left for his club but for some reason, Southgate keeps using him down the middle, preventing the 23-year-old from showing his full ability. The coach needs runners, who can get behind the opposition line and stretch their defence. The likes of Rashford, Sancho and Saka are the guys who can make it happen. Maybe it’s time for Southgate to abandon his conservative approach and take a more direct route in this tournament.

Sportslumo Desk

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